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Ireland’s most famous (and bloodthirsty) executioner was a woman.

Ireland’s most famous (and bloodthirsty) executioner was a woman.

Betty George was nothing special, by all accounts—she was just a desperately poor single mother living in the West country of Ireland in the late 18th century. She raised her young son well, though, teaching him to read and write (which was rare for the time). When he was old enough, he went to America to seek his fortune.

Years later, a well-dressed man came to her door looking for shelter. Here the story gets a bit muddy—one version claims that she had made it a practice of taking in people, butchering them, and stealing their belongings; another version claims that she only did it once. Whichever is true, she did indeed slaughter the well-dressed man. There was a twist, however. When she rifled through his pockets she found his travel documents. The name on the documents was that of her own son. Betty fled in a fit of hysteria, but was soon picked up by the town constable.

Needless to say, Betty was convicted of murder and was sentenced to hang for the crime. She was taken to a prison in the town of Roscommon to await her hanging. But on the day it was to be done, there was no hangman available to deal with Betty and all of the other homicidal maniacs awaiting their own execution. Just as the sheriff himself was gearing up to do the horrible task, Betty jumped up, looked him in the eye, and said, “Let me free, and I’ll hang them all!” The sheriff, not wanting to do the task himself, took her up on the offer.

For the next 30 years, Betty was the chief executioner at Roscommon Jail. She lived on the third floor of the prison and, although she wasn’t paid, she loved her job; she even had the gallows put right outside her window. Betty also had a particularly nasty penchant of letting the bodies swing like a pendulum after they were hanged, while she sketched them in charcoal. When she died, they found her room decorated with dozens of drawings of the people she had gleefully sent to their deaths.