FOR the last man to hang in Worcester, they needed to make some technical adjustments to the scaffold.

Chinaman Djang Jin Sung was so small, well under 5ft tall and light with it, that if he had fallen the usual distance before the noose tightened, most likely he would have simply hung in the air and slowly strangled. So the drop was extended to 8ft 6ins, by which time it was calculated Sung’s body would be travelling sufficiently fast for the sudden jerk to break his neck.

And so it was at 8.01am on December 3, 1919, the prison bell tolled to  inform the small crowd gathered at the gates of the County Jail in Castle Street that Sung had gone to meet his maker. Never again would the hangman visit Worcester.

Sung’s demise ended a macabre ritual that until 1863 had been held in public. Large crowds would mass outside the prison to witness hangings and floggings, which were considered prime entertainment. It was only after the execution of 70-year-old William Ockold on January 2, 1863 that the process was moved inside to the relative privacy of a corner of the prison exercise yard.

The small knot of folk there to pray for Sung’s soul was also an indication he was not a local man. In fact he came from Coleshill, Birmingham. He was hanged for the murder of a fellow Chinese, Zee Ming Wu, whose mutilated body was found by local lad Henry Thomas Wilson in Warley Woods, which in those days was just 100 yards inside the Worcestershire border with Birmingham, early on Tuesday, June 23, 1919.

Sung’s murderer had delivered three savage blows with a hammer, kicked him in the head and outraged his body with a series of knife (later described as an engraving tool) wounds. Two ribs were fractured and lying across his face was a block of wood.

It was a bizarre and unusual killing, but the very next day police had a stroke of luck when officials at Blythe Road post office in London’s Kensington called in the Met after another Chinese man attempted to cash-in the £240 deposited in Sung’s account. When questioned, he’d run off.

Early the following day, Ernest Dyson heard a commotion in the room above his flat at 15 Aldine Street Shepherd’s Bush, and saw a man, whom he later identified as Djang Djin Sung, running away after an attack on another Chinaman Kwo Doung Dson. Dyson also retrieved a bloodstained hammer thrown from the flat window.

Caught by the police, the tiny 23-year-old Sung (he was described as “much under five feet in height and his features are not particularly attractive”) was taken to Paddington Green Police station where he confessed all to Det Insp Percy Savage, who then knew nothing of the Worcestershire killing and whose notes were made verbatim. A typical extract read: “Me tell you all true. Yes, me take book to bank but me no killee Zee Ming Wu. Ling Ding Jig took hammer from me and killed him. Me saw him do it.” Of the bank-book, Sung said it had been given to him by Jig: “Who is very clever business man. He say ‘You go London get money, me wait here’.”

Now tipped-off by their Metropolitan colleagues, within hours the Birmingham force had rounded up the remaining three of the five Chinamen who’d lodged together at 103 Coleshill Road, all of whom were later revealed as having been present at the murder. Apart from the murdered man, the other two were Zee Bing Zar and Ling Gai Wu.

Despite his wails of innocence, Sung was charged with the murder and transported to Worcester Jail to await his trial. This was held before a huge crowd, mostly ladies according to the Worcester Herald, at the Shirehall on October 22. The presiding judge was Mr Justice Rowlatt and the hearing was over in a matter of hours,. The jury took only 10 minutes to return a guilty verdict and Sung was sentenced to death “in the usual form”, said the Herald.

At the subsequent appeal before the Lord Chief Justice, The Hon. Reginald Coventry put up a brave show in his client’s defence, claiming that while he was clearly witness to the murder and had actually supplied the weapon he’d stolen from his employers, he had not struck the fatal blows. The appeal was dismissed on the grounds Sung knew the purpose of the visit to Warley Woods and was thus complicit in the murder. That the later attack on Kwo Doung Dson also involved the same bloodstained hammer which had killed Zee Ming Wu, added considerable impact to the final outcome.

The execution was set for December 3 and the Herald of December 6 duly reported it had been carried out “with the utmost expedition by Ellis of Rochdale and his assistant Taylor who, because of Sung’s diminutive height and weight, had to extend the drop to 8ft 6ins or risk slow stangulation of their prisoner. There was no hitch of any description. Sung walked to the scaffold erect and with a firm stride. He uttered no word and it is understood he made no confession while awaiting his doom”.

John Ellis operated as an executioner for 23 years, from 1901 to 1924. Somewhat bizarrely his other occupations were a newsagent and hairdresser.

Worcester Prison was built in 1813 in the style of a medieval castle and was finally closed in 1922. Most of the complex was taken over by furniture makers Rackstraws, which used it for more than 50 years. Its last remains were demolished in 1987. The old site stands behind the newly created University of Worcester Art House, opposite the former Royal Infirmary.

Only one prisoner ever escaped from the jail and he didn’t go over the wall, but through the front gate, hidden under sacks in a coal cart. However, his bid for freedom was short lived, because when he got home, his wife sent him straight back!

This article contains extracts from Bob Blandford’s upcoming second volume of the history of Worcester City Police, ‘The Spike’, due for publication next year. Bob’s latest project is a slide show and presentation 'Suspended Sentences' detailing the gory tales of more than 50 murderers hung at Worcester Prison between 1830 and 1919.  For info contact Bob at