Woods, John, born 05-06-1911, Wichita, Kansas, was an American Master Sergeant and the hangman for the Third United States Army at the Nuremberg Trials. After his parents separated, Woods attended high school for one year, before dropping out. In 1933, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, but was dishonorably discharged on 27-09-1933 after being AWOL for six days and refusing to work. He was convicted at a general court martial and subsequently examined by a psychiatric board on April 23, 1930. He was diagnosed with “Constitutional Psychopathic Inferiority without Psychosis”, was found “poor service material” and discharged. At his induction, he was listed as having blue eyes, brown hair with a ruddy complexion, standing 5’4½” tall and weighing 130 pounds. He reported to basic training on 19-09-1943; in early 1944, he deployed on a troopship to England and was assigned to FFRD #4. On 30-03-1944, he was assigned to Company B of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion, nickname “Eagle Battalion” in the 5th Engineer Special Brigade . Morning reports for that unit do not indicate that Woods was ever absent from the command in the first six months; he therefore likely took part in the Normandy Invasion, where Company B invaded Omaha Beach, losing 4 KIA, 15 WIA and 3 MIA in just the first day.
Woods left Company B on 03-10-1944 for duty in the Normandy Base Section. He was attached to the 2913th Disciplinary Training Center in 1944; orders in December 1944 show him assigned to the Provost Marshal Section in the Headquarters of the Brittany Base Section. Woods was formally assigned to the 2913th Disciplinary Training Center on 12-02-1945; on 07-03-1945, he was assigned to the Headquarters of the Normandy Base Section, but was attached back to the 2913th for duty.
However, unknown to the Army, there was a dark secret about John C. Woods. On 03-12-1929, John Woods joined the United States Navy. He reported to the west coast. After initial training, he received an assignment for the U.S.S. Saratoga . Within months, Woods deserted. Authorities apprehended him in Colorado and returned him to California, where he received a General Court-Martial. After the conviction, a Navy medical officer recommended that a medical board examine Woods. This happened on 23-04-1930.
Before D-Day, American military executions by hanging in the Europe Theater of Operations occurred in England only and were performed by the civilian executioner Thomas Pierrepoint with assistance by Albert Pierrepoint and other British personnel.Thomas died old age83 on 11-02-1954 in Bradford, England and Albert died very old age 92 on 10-07-1992 in Southport England. When in autumn of 1944 military executions by hanging were scheduled in France, the Army looked for a volunteer enlisted hangman and found Woods, who falsely claimed previous experience as assistant hangman in two cases in Texas and two in Oklahoma – there is no evidence that the U.S. Army made any attempt to verify Woods’ claims. In fact, Woods had no documented pre-war experience as a hangman. He was promoted to master sergeant and transferred to Paris Disciplinary Training Center. Woods performed as the primary executioner in the hangings of 34 American soldiers at various locations in France over 1944–1945, and assisted in at least three others. U.S. Army reports suggest that Woods participated in at least 11 bungled hangings of US soldiers between 1944 and 1946.
Together with Joseph Malta, on October 16, 1946, Woods carried out the executions of the ten convicted German Main War Criminals. Joseph Malta born 27-11-1918 in Revere, Massachusetts and died 06-01-1999 in Revere Massachusetts, was the hangman who, with Woods, executed the top 10 leaders of the Third Reich in Nuremburg on October 16, 1946, for crimes against humanity. . Joseph Malta was a 28-year-old U.S. Army military policeman when he volunteered for the job of hanging the men condemned by the International Military Tribunal. He hanged 60 Nazi government and military leaders. A floor sander in civilian life, Malta left the Army in 1947 and returned to his former job. “It was a pleasure doing it,” noted Malta in later life, echoed the sentiments of his hangman partner John C Woods. The executions took place in the gymnasium of Nuremberg Prison . Either Woods or his colleague Malta calculated wrong lengths for the ropes used for the executions, so that several convicts did not die quickly due ;))to a broken neck as intended, but had to suffer a slow and painful death by suffocation. In addition to that mistake, the trapdoor was too small, so that several convicts suffered bloody head injuries when they hit the trapdoor. Post-execution photos indicate that the trap door mechanism was flawed and that several of the condemned hit the door with their face as they plummeted downward. Woods is said to have kept small pieces of the rope used for each convict as his souvenir, considered to be against the policy adopted at Nuremberg Trials by the Colonel in charge of executions. Altogether he executed 347 people during his 15-year career. Woods said after the Nuremberg executions: “I hanged those ten Nazis… and I am proud of it… I wasn’t nervous…. A fellow can’t afford to have nerves in this business…. I want to put in a good word for those G.I.s who helped me… they all did swell…. I am trying to get [them] a promotion…. The way I look at this hanging job, somebody has to do it. I got into it kind of by accident, years ago in the States….” and “Ten men in 103 minutes. That’s fast work.”