(July 20, 2019) Just received the author’s advance copy for American Hangman. That usually means that 6-8 weeks from now the Schiffer warehouse in Atglen, Pennsylvania will start receiving copies of the book from the printer. The book is fabulous. First we met our target price of $29.99. The book has 256 pages and 108 black and white photos from the period, several of which are from the family with their kind permission, and where he resided that I guarantee you that you have never seen before. More importantly, this is what I call a “one off” book. Once you read this, you will know everything you would want to know about the “American Hangman.” There are no other books about him. There are a few magazine articles, first published in 1946 and continuing to today, but most of the information in them is extremely inaccurate.
You will be able to read, from primary official documents, the details of the 80 men that Woods was the assistant or primary hangman during the execution, mostly the primary. He did not, as magazines claimed, hang 347 men, nor did he hang, as he once claimed, 200 men. Some 38 of the men were American soldiers; another 42 were German or Austrian. But the story goes much deeper and reveals his young days, his short stint in the United States Navy about 1930, almost missing his wedding ceremony just after Prohibition was lifted, his brush with the law bouncing checks, driving a truck for a hearse company, joining the United States Army in 1943, fighting on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
Did you know that John Woods could smoke a cigarette and blow smoke out of his ears? Well, his nieces remembered that and a great deal of additional information about a man who adored his wife, loved dogs, liked to make officers uncomfortable, had an affinity for Wild Crow bourbon whiskey, had a storehouse of entertaining stories to tell his friends and was not above intentionally botching a hanging if the condemned man disrespected him on the scaffold.
After reading this book, you will feel that not only do you know about John C. Woods but that you would have enjoyed having a beer with him. In fact, one of the characters in this book used to do just that in various pubs at Le Mans, France almost every day for six months in 1945. He’ll fill you in on details that the Army never knew about the “American Hangman.”
But beware, it might not stop with a beer; as John might tell you: “I never saw three quarts of whiskey disappear so fast in my life.” (Said to True: The Man’s Magazine at Fort Dix, New Jersey in November 1946, concerning his team having a few drinks after the Nürnberg hangings.)