When I leave school, I should like to be chief executioner,” Albert Pierrepoint wrote in an essay when he was 11. He was both the son and nephew of chief executioners, and he achieved his ambition in 1941, nearly 10 years into his career as a hangman.

A condemned prisoner is entrusted to me,” he wrote, “after decisions have been made which I cannot alter. He is a man, she is a woman who, the church says, still merits some mercy. The supreme mercy I can extend to them is to give them and sustain in them their dignity in dying and in death. The gentleness must remain.”

Research estimates Pierrepoint was responsible for the execution of 433 people, including 16 women.

Despite this tally his views on the death penalty were surprising. Read them inside True Detective August…