Taking away another human being’s life is a disturbing thing to do for a living. Usually it’s considered a crime, but sometimes it’s the opposite: a punishment. And behind every execution is an executioner: someone who is paid by the state to kill in the name of justice. This job has existed throughout most of human history, and in many places it still exists to this day.
It’s not an easy job. It takes someone with thick-skin to be an executioner, and in some cases it takes someone very sadistic too. Most people who take the job suffer, whether it’s because of their own issues or through being shunned by their peers. And so this complicated, controversial job can lead people to do strange things and live strange lives.
With most executions, the spotlight is on the person on the receiving end. But if you take a look at the person who flicks the switch, swings the axe, or ties the noose, you might be surprised at what you find. The people behind the execution often have stories that are just as sinister as the person being executed.
10. Heinrich Schmidt
In most creepy stories about executioners, they play the role of the villain. But we actually feel sympathy for Heinrich Schmidt, who was an executioner with an unfortunate back story. Heinrich Schmidt was once a normal guy, a woodsman in the Bavarian town of Hof. However, on one ordinary day in 1553 his life changed forever – for the worse.
It was commonplace for townsfolk to attend executions, and on that day Heinrich Schmidt had been doing just that. He was standing in a crowd waiting to see an execution. The crowd were left waiting because there was one big problem; they had no executioner. Their tyrannical ruler, Brandenburg-Kulmbach Albrecht II, was furious at the situation and decided to pick someone at random from the crowd. He picked Schmidt to be the executioner, but Schmidt said no. So the prince gave him an ultimatum: execute these men, or you’ll be executed too. Schmidt eventually gave in and carried out the execution. But once he did, there was no going back.
His family became so isolated by the stigma that he couldn’t get any work other than as an executioner. And that’s how the rest of his life was, shunned by society and being forced to execute people.