On this date in 1945, the last man executed for rape in England was hanged at Shepton Mallet prison — an American serviceman, hanged by the United States military.
Our story finds us in the Staffordshire town of Rugeley (for a second consecutive date), where a Mexican-American prisoner-camp guard named Anicento Martinez raped a 75-year-old local. He should have put some thought into his alibi: he was the only American out of the camp that night, and hence easy pickings.
No, Martinez is notable only for his accidental milestones. His was the last U.S. military execution in Britain during World War II (actually coming over five weeks after Germany had capitulated). And he was the last person hanged on Albion’s soil for rape. This offense was not a hanging crime by English statute at the time, but was a capital offense in a U.S. military court … although all six of the personnel upon whom the sentence was inflicted were non-white, a pattern noticeable in stateside civilian cases as well.
Martinez also, as it turned out, retired the use of Shepton Mallet as a facility for conducting executions. Dating to 1610, the prison had been out of commission during the 1930’s but taken over by the visiting American forces during the war years. (It’s remained in operation since, England’s oldest functioning prison.)
Though conducted under American law, the 16 hangings* at Shepton Mallet were actually carried out by British executioners in something of a procedural amalgam. American procedures in general governed the affair — and prolific British hangman Albert Pierrepoint, who conducted several, remarked on the (to him) oddities in his autobiography:
[A] custom which was strange to me was the practice of laying on a mighty feast before the execution. We were eating badly in this country at that time, but at an American execution you could be sure of the best running buffet and unlimited canned beer. The part of the routine which I found it hardest to acclimatise myself to was the, to me, sickening interval between my introduction to the prisoner and his death. Under British custom I was working to the sort of time where the drop fell between eight and twenty seconds after I had entered the condemned cell. Under the American system, after I had pinioned the prisoner, he had to stand on the drop for perhaps six minutes while his charge sheet was read out, sentence spelt out, he was asked if he had anything to say … and after that I was instructed to get on with the job.
One important concession to the British practice: use of the variable drop, designed to break the condemned wretch’s neck rather than a standard drop without accounting for the weight of the prisoner … which risked either slowly suffocating or outright decapitating the hanged man.
Northern Kentucky University professor J. Robert Lilly has more detail on American military executions at Shepton Mallet in this 1995 paper.
* There were also two executions by firing squad, “soldierly” executions for military offenses. A complete list of these executions is here.