FIRSTLY A FORMAL STATEMENT FROM THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL
IT HAD BEEN BROUGHT TO OUR ATTENTION THAT THE CHANNEL 4 PROGRAMME – FOUR ROOMS AT THE END OF MAY 2011 FEATURED AND TRIED TO SELL A JAMES BERRY HANGMAN’S NOOSE PURPORTING TO HAVE BEEN USED ON THE FAILED EXECUTION OF JOHN ” BABBACOMBE ” LEE ON JULY 23RD 1885 AT EXETER JAIL
WE WISH TO MAKE IT ABUNDANTLY CLEAR THAT THIS WAS NOT THE NOOSE USED AND THAT THE ORIGINAL HANGMAN’S NOOSE AND PERSONALLY HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED LETTER TO THIS EFFECT ARE HERE AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL ON PUBLIC DISPLAY .
(SEE ORIGINAL NOOSE AND LETTER PICTURES HERE ABOVE FOR REFERENCE )
THESE EXHIBIT ITEMS WERE PURCHASED AT AUCTION BY THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION BACK IN THE YEAR 2000 .
THE PROPOSED SALE OF THE OTHER NOOSE FAILED TO MATERIALISE …..PROBABLY DUE TO KNOWLEDGE OF THE ORIGINAL NOOSE AND LETTER OF PROVENANCE FROM THE EXECUTIONER -JAMES BERRY BEING HERE AT THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION , LITTLEDEAN JAIL, UK .
John Henry George Lee (1864 – c. 19 March 1945), better known as John “Babbacombe” Lee or “The Man They Couldn’t Hang”, was an Englishman famous for surviving three attempts to hang him for murder. Born in Abbotskerswell, Devon, Lee served in the Royal Navy, and was a known thief. In 1885, he was convicted of the brutal murder of his employer, Emma Keyse, at her home at Babbacombe Bay near Torquay on 15 November 1884. The evidence was weak and circumstantial, amounting to little more than Lee having been the only male in the house at the time of the murder, his previous criminal record, and being found with an unexplained cut on his arm. Despite this and his claim of innocence, he was sentenced to hang.
Execution attempts and aftermath
On 23 February 1885, three attempts were made to carry out his execution at Exeter Prison. All ended in failure, as the trapdoor of the scaffold failed to open despite being carefully tested by the executioner, James Berry, beforehand. As a result, Home Secretary Sir William Harcourt commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Lee continued to petition successive Home Secretaries and was finally released in 1907. The only other man in history known to have survived three hanging attempts was Joseph Samuel.
Many theories have been advanced as to the cause of the failure, but Home Office papers show that the official report stated that incorrect assembly of the gallows mechanism allowed the trapdoor hinges to rest upon an eighth of an inch of drawbar, preventing them from opening when the doors were weighted. This incident helped lead to a standard gallows design to prevent a recurrence.
Later years and identifications
After his release, Lee seems to have exploited his notoriety, supporting himself through lecturing on his life, even becoming the subject of a silent film. Accounts of his whereabouts after 1916 are somewhat confused, and one researcher even speculated that in later years, there was more than one man claiming to be Lee. It was suspected that he died in the Tavistock workhouse during the Second World War. However, one recent piece of research concludes that he died in the United States under the name of “James Lee” in 1945. According to the book The Man They Could Not Hang by Mike Holgate and Ian David Waugh, Lee’s gravestone was found at Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee.
ABOVE : Iconic English Folk Rock Band Fairport Convention’ s 1971 album cover entitled “Babbacombe Lee”
Below: The Hanging Song performed by Fairport Convention .