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Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", although it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain "hanging".

For lack of a better term, hanging has also been used to describe a method of suicide in which a person applies a ligature to the neck and brings about unconsciousness and then death, by means of partial suspension or partial weight-bearing on the ligature. This method has been most often used in prisons or other institutions, where full suspension support is difficult to devise. The earliest known use of the word in this sense was in A.D. 1300.

Methods of judicial hanging

There are four ways of performing a judicial hanging — the short drop, suspension hanging, the standard drop, and the long drop. A mechanised form of hanging, the upright jerker, was also experimented with in the 18th century.

Short drop

The short drop is done by placing the condemned prisoner on the back of a cart, horse, or other vehicle, with the noose around the neck. The object is then moved away, leaving the person dangling from the rope. The condemned prisoner dies of strangulation, typically between ten and twenty minutes. Before 1850, it was the main method. A ladder was also commonly used with the condemned being forced to ascend, after which the noose was tied and the ladder pulled away or turned, leaving the condemned hanging. Another method involves using a stool, which the condemned is required to stand on, being kicked away.

Standard drop

The standard drop, which arrived as calculated in English units, involves a drop of between four and six feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) and came into use from 1866, when the scientific details were published by an Irish doctor, Samuel Haughton. Immediately its use spread to English-speaking countries and those where judicial systems had an English origin. It was considered a humane improvement on the short drop because it was intended to be enough to break the person's neck, causing immediate paralysis and immobilization (and probable immediate unconsciousness). This method was used to execute condemned Nazis under United Statesmarker jurisdiction after the Nuremberg Trialsmarker including Joachim von Ribbentrop and Ernst Kaltenbrunner.

Nazis executed under British jurisdiction, including Josef Kramer, Fritz Klein, Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath, were hanged by Albert Pierrepoint using the variable drop method devised by William Marwood.

Long drop

This process, also known as the measured drop, was introduced to Britain in 1872 by William Marwood as a scientific advancement to the standard drop. Instead of everyone falling the same standard distance, the person's height, weight and strength were used to determine how much slack would be provided in the rope so that the distance dropped would be enough to ensure that the neck was broken but not so much that the person was decapitated.

Prior to 1892, the drop was between four and ten feet (about one to three metres), depending on the weight of the body, and was calculated to deliver a force of 1,260 lbf (5,600 newton or 572 kgf), which fractured the neck at either the 2nd and 3rd or 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae. However, this force resulted in some decapitations, such as the famous case of "Black Jack" Tom Ketchum in New Mexicomarker Territory in 1901. Between 1892 and 1913, the length of the drop was shortened to avoid decapitation. After 1913, other factors were also taken into account, and the force delivered was reduced to about 1,000 lbf (4,400 N or 450 kgf). The decapitation of Eva Dugan during a botched hanging in 1930 led the state of Arizonamarker to switch to the gas chamber as its primary execution method, on the grounds that it was believed more humane. One of the more recent decapitations as a result of the long drop occurred when Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was hanged in Iraq in 2007.

Suicide by hanging.

As suicide

Hanging is a common method for committing suicide. The materials necessary for suicide by hanging are easily available to the average person, compared with firearms or lethal poison. It is a deceptively simple yet highly effective suicide method. Full suspension is not required, and for this reason hanging is especially commonplace among suicidal prisoners. A type of hanging comparable to full suspension hanging may be obtained by self-strangulation using a ligature of the neck and only partial weight of the body (partial suspension).

In Canadamarker, hanging is the most common method of suicide, and in the U.S., hanging is the second most common method, after firearms. In the United Kingdom, where firearms are less easily available, as of 2001 hanging was the most common method among men and the second-most commonplace among women (after poisoning).

Medical effects

A hanging may induce one or more of the following medical conditions, some leading to death:

The cause of death in hanging depends on the conditions related to the event. When the body is released from a relatively high position, death is usually caused by severing the spinal cord between C1 and C2, which may be functional decapitation. High cervical fracture frequently occurs in judicial hangings, and in fact the C1-C2 fracture has been called the "hangman's fracture" in medicine, even when it occurs in other circumstances. Usually, accidental C1-C2 fracture victims do not immediately become unconscious; instead death occurs after some minutes. Another process that has been suggested is carotid sinus reflex death. By this theory, the mechanical stimulation of the carotid sinus in the neck brings on terminal cardiac arrest.

In the absence of fracture and dislocation, occlusion of blood vessels becomes the major cause of death, rather than asphyxiation. Obstruction of venous drainage of the brain via occlusion of the internal jugular veins leads to cerebral edema and then cerebral ischemia. The face will typically become engorged and cyanotic (turned blue through lack of oxygen). There will be the classic sign of strangulation—petechiae—little blood marks on the face and in the eyes from burst blood capillaries. The tongue may protrude.

Compromise of the cerebral blood flow may occur by obstruction of the carotid arteries, even though their obstruction requires far more force than the obstruction of jugular veins, since they are seated deeper and they contain blood in much higher pressure compared to the jugular veins. Only 31 newtons (7 lbf or 3.2 kgf) of force may be enough to constrict the carotid arteries to the point of rapid unconsciousness. Where death has occurred through carotid artery obstruction or cervical fracture, the face will typically be pale in color and not show petechiae. Many reports and pictures exist of actual short-drop hangings that seem to show that the person died quickly, while others indicate a slow and agonizing death by strangulation.

When cerebral circulation is severely compromised by any mechanism, arterial or venous, death occurs over four or more minutes from cerebral hypoxia, although the heart may continue to beat for some period after the brain can no longer be resuscitated. The time of death in such cases is a matter of convention. In judicial hangings, death is pronounced at cardiac arrest, which may occur at times from several minutes up to 15 minutes or longer after hanging. During suspension, once the prisoner has lapsed into unconsciousness, rippling movements of the body and limbs may occur for some time which are usually attributed to nervous and muscular reflexes. In Britain, it was normal to leave the body suspended for an hour to ensure death.

After death, the body typically shows marks of suspension: bruising and rope marks on the neck. Moreover, sphincters will relax spontaneously and urine and faeces will be evacuated. Forensic experts may often be able to tell if hanging is suicide or homicide, as each leaves a distinctive ligature mark. One of the hints they use is the hyoid bone. If broken, it often means the person has been murdered by manual choking.

Notable references by country (political)

Hanging has been a method of capital punishment in many countries.


Capital punishment was a part of the legal system of Australia from its early days as a penal colony for the British Empire, until 1985. During the 19th century, crimes that could carry a death sentence included burglary, sheep stealing, forgery, sexual assaults, murder and manslaughter. During the 19th century, there were about 80 people hanged each year throughout Australia for these crimes.

Australia abolished the death penalty in all states by 1985.The last man executed by hanging (or any other means) in Australia was Ronald Ryan on 3 February 1967, in Victoriamarker.


Death by hanging was the customary method of capital punishment in Brazilmarker throughout its history. Some important national heroes like Tiradentes (1792) were killed by hanging. The last man executed in Brazil was the slave Francisco, in 1876.The death penalty was abolished for all crimes, except for those committed under extraordinary circumstances such as war or military law, in 1890.


Bulgariamarker's national hero, Vasil Levski, was executed by hanging by the Ottoman court in Sofiamarker in 1873. Every year since Bulgaria's liberation, thousands come with flowers on the date of his death, February 19, to his monument where the gallows stood.

The last execution was in 1989, and the death penalty was abolished for all crimes in 1998.


Historically, hanging was the only method of execution used in Canadamarker and was in use as punishment for all murders until 1961, when murders were reclassified into capital and non-capital offences. The death penalty was restricted to only apply for certain offences to the National Defence Act in 1976 and was completely abolished in 1998.

The last hangings in Canada took place on December 11, 1962.


In the territories occupied by Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1945, strangulation hanging was a preferred means of public execution, although more criminal executions were performed by guillotine than hanging. The most common sentenced were partisan and black marketeers, whose bodies were usually left hanging for long periods of time. There are also numerous reports of concentration camp inmates being hanged. Hanging was continued in post-war Germany in the British and US Occupation Zones under their jurisdiction, and for Nazi war criminals, until well after (western) Germany itself had abolished the death penalty by the German constitution as adopted in 1949. West-Berlin was not subject to the "Grundgesetz" and abolished the death penalty in 1951. The German Democratic Republicmarker did not abolish the death penalty until 1987. The last execution ordered by a West German court was carried out by guillotine in Moabit prison 1949. The last hanging in Germany was the one ordered of several war criminals in Landsberg am Lechmarker on June 7, 1951. The last known execution in East Germany was in 1981 by a pistol shot to the neck.


The prime minister of Hungary during the 1956 revolution, Imre Nagy, was secretly tried, executed by hanging, and buried unceremoniously by the new Sovietmarker-backed Hungarian government, in 1958. Nagy was later publicly exonerated by Hungary.

Capital punishment was abolished for all crimes in 1990.


All executions in India are carried out by hanging.

Nathuram Godse, Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin, was executed by hanging in 1949.

The modern Supreme Court of Indiamarker has suggested that capital punishment should be given only in the "rarest of rare cases".

A recent case of capital punishment by hanging is that of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a Security Guard who was convicted of the 1990 murder and rape of a 14-year-old girl, Hetal Parekh, in Kolkatamarker in Indiamarker. The manner in which the crime was committed, bludgeoning the victim with a blunt object and raping her as she was slowly dying, was considered brutal enough by the Supreme Court of India to warrant the death penalty. An appeal for clemency was made to the President of India, but was turned down. Chatterjee was hanged on August 14, 2004. It was the first execution in India since 1995.


As one of several means of capital punishment in Iran, hangings are carried out by using an automotive telescoping crane to hoist the condemned aloft. The death penalty is used for many offences and is the only punishment for rape, murder and child molestation, with all hangings taking place in public.

On July 19, 2005, two boys, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, ages 15 and 17 respectively, who had been convicted of the rape of a 13-year-old boy, were publicly hanged at Edalat (Justice) Square in Mashhadmarker, on charges of homosexuality and rape.On August 15, 2004, a 16-year-old girl, Atefeh Sahaaleh (a.k.a. Ateqeh Rajabi), was executed for having committed "acts incompatible with chastity".

At dawn on July 27, 2008, the Iranian Government executed a total of 29 people at Evin Prisonmarker in Tehranmarker. On 2 December 2008, an unnamed man was hanged for murder at Kazeroun Prison, just moments before he was pardoned by the murder victim's family, then quickly cut down and rushed to a hospital where he was successfully revived.


Hanging was used under the regime of Saddam Hussein, but was suspended along with capital punishment on June 10, 2003, when the United Statesmarker-led coalition invaded and overthrew the previous regime. The death penalty was reinstated on August 8, 2004.

In September 2005, three murderers were the first people to be executed since the restoration. Then on March 9, 2006, an official of Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council confirmed that Iraqi authorities had executed the first insurgent by hanging.

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging for crimes against humanity on November 5, 2006, and was executed on December 30, 2006 at approximately 6:00 a.m. local time. During the drop, there was an audible crack indicating that his neck was broken, a successful example of a long drop hanging.

By contrast, Barzan Ibrahim, the head of the Mukhabarat, Saddam's security agency, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former chief judge, were executed on January 15, 2007, also by the long drop method, but Barzan was decapitated by the rope at the end of his fall indicating that the drop was too long.

Also, former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan had been sentenced to life in prison on November 5, 2006, but the sentence was changed to death by hanging on February 12, 2007. He was the fourth and final man to be executed for the 1982 crimes against humanity on March 20, 2007. This time, the execution went smoothly and without obvious mistake or problem.

At the Anfal genocide trial, Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka Chemical Ali), former defence minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed al-Tay, and former deputy Hussein Rashid Mohammed were sentenced to hang for their role in the Al-Anfal Campaign against the Kurds on June 24, 2007. Al-Majid was again sentenced to death for the 1991 suppression of a Shi'a uprising along with Abdul-Ghani Abdul Ghafur on December 2, 2008.


Although Israelmarker has provisions in its criminal law to use the death penalty for extraordinary crimes, it has only been used once. On May 31, 1962, Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was executed by hanging.


On February 27, 2004, the mastermind of the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, Shoko Asahara, was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. On December 25, 2006, serial killer Hiroaki Hidaka and three others were hanged in Japanmarker. Hanging is the common method of execution in capital punishment cases in Japan, as in the cases of Norio Nagayama, Mamoru Takuma, and Tsutomu Miyazaki.


Death by hanging is the traditional method of capital punishment in Jordanmarker.


Hanging is the traditional way of capital punishment in Malaysiamarker.


The last person executed by hanging in Portugal was Francisco Matos Lobos on April 16, 1842. Before, it had been a common death penalty.


In Pakistan hanging is the most common form of execution.


Similar to many other countries, the Russian Empiremarker used the death penalty for a wide range of crimes.

The death penalty was officially outlawed shortly after the revolution of 1917, but the government later permitted the use of the penalty for soldiers on the front. In the next several decades, the death penalty was alternatively permitted and prohibited, but during Stalin's reign, the death penalty was used in many cases. The last persons to be sentenced to death by hanging were Andrey Vlasov and 11 other officers of his army on August 1, 1946. Numerous executions from that date forward were carried out by gunshot, which became the standard method of capital punishment in the Soviet Union.

In the Russian Federationmarker the death penalty is still technically allowed but is currently under a moratorium.


In Singaporemarker, mandatory hanging using the long-drop method is currently used as punishment for various crimes, such as drug trafficking, kidnapping and unauthorized possession of firearms.

A 25-year old Vietnamese-Australian, Nguyen Tuong Van, was hanged on December 2, 2005, after being convicted of drug trafficking in 2002. Numerous efforts from both the Australian government, Queen's Counsels and petitions from organizations such as Amnesty International failed to persuade Singapore to rescind its decision.

A 24-year old Malaysianmarker, Took Leng How, was hanged on November 2, 2006, after being convicted of the murder of Huang Na in 2004.

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, a Nigerianmarker national was sentenced to death in Singapore for drug trafficking. He was hanged on January 26, 2007.

United Kingdom

As a form of judicial execution in Englandmarker, hanging is thought to date from the Anglo-Saxon period. Records of the names of British hangmen begin with Thomas de Warblynton in the 1360s ; complete records extend from the 1500s to the last hangmen, Robert Leslie Stewart and Harry Allen, who conducted the last British executions in 1964.Until 1865 hangings were performed in public. In London, the traditional site was at Tyburnmarker, a settlement west of the Citymarker on the main road to Oxfordmarker, which was used on eight hanging days a year, though before 1865, executions had been transferred to the street outside Newgate Prisonmarker, Old Baileymarker, now the site of the Central Criminal Court.

In 1965, Parliament passed the Murder Act, temporarily abolishing capital punishment for murder for 5 years. The Act was renewed in 1969, making the abolition permanent. And with the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, the death penalty was officially abolished for all crimes in both civilian and military cases. Following its complete abolition, the gallows were removed from Wandsworth Prisonmarker, where they remained in full working order until that year.

The last woman to be hanged was Ruth Ellis on July 13, 1955, by Albert Pierrepoint who was a prominent hangman in the 20th century in England. The last hanging in Britain took place in 1964, when Peter Anthony Allen, at Walton Prisonmarker in Liverpoolmarker, and Gwynne Owen Evans, at Strangeways Prison in Manchestermarker were executed for the murder of John Alan West.

Silken rope

In the UK, some felons have traditionally been executed by hanging with a silken rope:

United States

The two largest mass executions in the U.S., of 38 and 13 men at the same time, were carried out by hanging.

At present, capital punishment varies from state to state; it is outlawed in some states but used in most others. However, the death penalty under federal law is applicable in every state. Other forms of capital punishment have largely been replaced by lethal injection in the U.S., where the condemned may choose this as an option. Only lethal injection is used at the federal level and only the states of Washingtonmarker and New Hampshiremarker still retain hanging as an option. Hanging was the preferred method of execution in the state of Iowamarker until 1965, when Iowa abolished the death penalty. The last inmate to be executed by hanging in the state of Iowa was condemned murderer Victor Feguer, on March 15, 1963. Currently, Iowa has no death penalty, all suspects convicted of capital murder are automatically sentenced to life without parole.

Laws in Delawaremarker were changed in 1986 to specify lethal injection, except for those convicted prior to 1986, who were allowed to choose hanging. If a choice was not made, or the convict refused to choose injection, then hanging was the default method. This was the case in the 1996 execution of Billy Bailey, the most recent hanging in American history. Since the hanging of Bailey, no Delaware prisoner has fit into this category, thus the practice has ended there de facto, and the gallows have been dismantled.

In New Hampshire, if it is found to be 'impractical' to carry out the execution by lethal injection, then the condemned will be hanged, and in Washington the condemned still has an outright choice between hanging and lethal injection.

In California, Clinton Duffy, who served as warden of San Quentin State Prisonmarker between 1940 and 1952, presided over ninety executions. He began to oppose the death penalty and after his retirement he wrote a memoir entitled Eighty-Eight Men and Two Women in support of the movement to abolish the death penalty. The book documents several hangings gone wrong and describes how they led his predecessor, Warden James B. Holohan, to persuade the California Legislature to replace hanging with the gas chamber in 1937.


Some speakers of English insist that the past tense and past participle of "hang" in this sense must be "hanged" and not "hung".Some dictionaries do list only "hanged", but others show both forms.


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  2. Report by Kingsbury Smith, International News Service, 16th October 1946
  3. Executioner Pierrepoint(ISBN 0-340-21307-8), p. 143–147.
  4. The history of judicial hanging in Britain 1735 - 1964
  5. "Gruesome death in gas chamber pushes Arizona towards injections", New York Times, April 25, 1992 (retrieved 7 January 2008).
  6. Suicide Statistics. URL accessed on 2006-05-16.
  7. Trends in suicide by method in England and Wales, 1979 to 2001 (PDF), Office of National Statistics. URL accessed on 2006-05-16.
  8. Countries that have abandoned the use of the death penalty, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, November 8, 2005
  9. Death penalty in Australia, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties
  10. Capital Punishment Worldwide, MSN Encarta. Archived 2009-10-31.
  11. Susan Munroe, History of Capital Punishment in Canada, About: Canada Online,
  12. Richard Solash, Hungary: U.S. President To Honor 1956 Uprising (June 20, 2006), radio Free Europe; RadioLiberty.
  13. Sakhrani, Monica; Adenwalla, Maharukh; Economic & Political Weekly, "Death Penalty - Case for Its Abolition"
  14. Kumara, Sarath; World Socialist Web Site; "West Bengal carries out first hanging in India in a decade"
  15. Iran executes 29 in jail hangings.
  16. IRAN: Halted execution highlights inherent cruelty of death penalty. Amnesty International USA (2008-12-09). Retrieved on 2008-12-11.
  17. Clark, Richard; The process of Judicial Hanging.
  18. AP: Saddam’s half brother and ex-official hanged January 15, 2007.
  19. Top Saddam aide sentenced to hang February 12, 2007.
  20. Saddam's former deputy hanged in Iraq March 20, 2007.
  21. Iraq's "Chemical Ali" sentenced to death,, June 24, 2007. Retrieved on June 24, 2007.
  22. Second death sentence for Iraq's 'Chemical Ali,, December 2, 2008. Retrieved on December 2, 2008.
  23. Lords Hansard text for 12 February 1998, Hansard, Col. 1350.
  24. Writ of Execution - Laurence, Earl Ferrers.
  25. The Newgate Calendar - Laurence, Earl Ferrers.
  26. Freedom of the City - History, City of London.
  27. Online
  28. Online

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