Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Man No Man Could Hang

Laying in a pool of his own blood, skull crushed, New South Wales police constable, Joseph Luker, lay dieing a mere 250 yards from the scene of a robbery. Officer Lurker died in short order that day in 1803. Why had he been killed and what has this to do with the man they couldn’t hang? Read on…


Officer Lurker happened on a scene where several men had stolen goods from the home of Mary Breeze in Back Row, Sydney Town, Australia. Among the stolen belongings was a desk, which was later to be found abandoned in the bush about 150 yards from Breeze’s bungalow. The locked drawers of the desk had been forced open, cash and other valuables were no where to be found. On top of the desk investigators found spots of blood.

Arrested and charged with the crime, the reprobates faced rigorous questioning in court. One of them, Joseph Samuels, confessed to his part in the caper.

He also implicated several of his companions, including a colleague of the murdered Joseph Lurker, Constable Isaac Simmonds, who denied any knowledge of the murder. Samuels, in his self-incriminating testimony, claimed that one of his other charged cohorts, one Richard Jackson, had in no way taken part in the crime.

The following day, however, Jackson declared that he had indeed been a principal participant in the robbery. More confessions came from the other delinquents who, eager to show their sincerity, indicated the exact place where they had buried the ill gotten goods. Further, they all denied any knowledge of the murder of Joseph Luker.

Samuels, now caught in a lie to the court with his claim that Jackson was innocent would, along with James Hardwicke, pay the price for Luker’s murder.

The following Monday morning, the two prisoners arrived at Castle Hill in an open cart surrounded by an armed contingent of the New South Wales Police Corps. Preparations were already underway for authorities to execute the pair.

It was said that “both prisoners conducted themselves with becoming decency”. Rev Marsden attended to their spiritual needs, and prepared them for their fate, he commented that both were “contrite and mournful.”

Both were asked, before their deaths, if they wished to ease their consciences with the disclosure of further information about Luker’s murder.

After a moment of silence, Samuels said he would like to make a statement. He went on to explain that he had spoken of Luker’s death with Isaac Simmonds while confined in a cell with him. He now appealed to heaven, and all those present, to bear witness to his statements.

Samuels alleged that, in conversation, Simmonds had said he had returned alone to the crime scene to rummage again through the stolen desk but, to his surprise, found Officer Luker there.

Simmonds allegedly said he “knocked the copper down and gave him a topper for luck”.

The now accused constable, present at Castle Hill to witness the execution of his cohorts, heard Samuels’ statement. He tried but failed to have the declaration halted.

Because Samuels had delivered his statement calmly and without acrimony, the spectators turned their attention to Simmonds, who they regarded with suspicion. Released from his cell only days earlier to act as a pallbearer for his colleague Joseph Luker, he had helped lower the murdered man’s coffin to its final resting place.

With all preliminaries dispensed with by about l0 o’clock, the condemned felons re-ascended the cart as the executioner adjusted the nooses around their necks. But, suddenly, the proceedings came to a halt. The provost marshal announced that a reprieve had come through for James Hardwicke.

Meanwhile, Samuels used his last moments for “most earnest and fervent prayer”. Finally, an official gave a signal and the cart flew from underneath his feet. Samuels began to fall but strangely, the rope failed to take the strain and parted around its center. Samuels fell heavily to the ground, where he lay motionless with his face in the dirt, still fervently praying. He had survived the first attempt to hang him.

He was given support on each side of his body, as the cart returned and another rope was found to place around his neck. Again he was launched from the back of the cart but, this time, the rope began to slip from its point of anchor and it kept slipping until Samuels’ legs trailed on the ground, leaving only half of his body suspended, still he continued to pray. He had survived the second attempt to hang him.

The spectators became restless. Armed with picnic baskets, they had come to watch a convicted felon’s final moments, but anger and disgust soon replaced the picnic-like ambiance.

Some witnesses asserted that the infinite hand of providence had intervened, for a man who had repented and revealed all. Others cried for the poor unfortunate to be cut down and turned loose.

Several of the male spectators stepped forward from the crowd to lift the stunned and trembling man onto their shoulders. No one could imagine what thoughts, if any, might have raced through Samuels’ tormented mind as he continued his prayers.

As the spectators held Samuels’ aloft, the executioner called for yet another rope, readied it and placed it around the neck of the praying convict.

The concerned spectators then gently lowered him until the replacement rope became taut and left the doomed man suspended above the dusty earth.

But, astonishingly, the rope again failed to hold! This time it snapped close to the noose and, again, the praying Samuels crashed to the ground. He had survived the third attempt to hang him!!

The spectators, by now in a collectively mutinous voice, demanded compassion. The provost marshal, also visibly distressed by the strange ordeal, sped off toward the Lieutenant Governor’s residence. Moments later, he returned and announced to a thunderous roar of approval that a reprieve had been granted.

Samuels’ mental faculties were by now totally impaired. He could only mutter incoherently and he would forever wail with a crooked neck and odd gate.

Medical help came to him quickly, before he was again loaded aboard the cart, this time to be taken from the scene to a more experienced doctor.

A later inspection of one of the ropes revealed only the defect – at the point of the break itself – which had caused it to snap.

After that visual inspection, the rope – with weights that totaled 350lbs attached to it, was slung up over the overhead beam. One of the rope’s three strands was then cut with a knife, as was a second strand soon after. The weight remained suspended from the one remaining strand of a rope that had earlier given way with a much lighter load.

Whether Samuels ever made a mental recovery from the failed execution is not recorded. But one journalist of the day wrote: “...and may the grateful remembrance of these events direct his (Samuels’) future course.”


Several years later he Samuels was again in trouble with the law and just seemed to vanish never to be heard from again. Back in the early 1800 it was easy for someone to just disappear, so rumors began to spread that he ha moved to England and died in a street accident, that the family of Joseph Lurker had finally done him in and (my favorite) that he had moved to New England in the U.S. and gone on to become a Hangman himself!! You gotta love this big weird world of ours!!


I’m Average Joe

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