Hangman Tom Long helped many into their grave but his own is mysteriously missing.
He was famous in New Zealand but for something no one else wanted to be known for.
He was the hangman, called upon to kill his fellow man, those sentenced to death by hanging.
Many of those who he hanged are buried in former prison graveyards but no one knows for sure where Tom Long himself was buried.
Time and again Long stepped up when called upon to carry out a duty that no one wanted to do.
By all accounts he was good at it, a little too good because boasting about it sometimes got him into trouble.
Tom however was an old hand at trouble. And mystery.
He said he was born in Ireland, although his date of birth is uncertain. One prison release records he is said to have been born in 1841 or 1851.
Long is described as a man with sandy grey hair and grey eyes with a crucifix and anchor tattoo on his left arm in 1890, although in one record it had changed arms.
He claimed to have served in the Navy and was an artilleryman during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 where he said he learned his skill as a hangman.
On finding his way to New Zealand he was often a labourer and bushman. In 1877 he was hangman for the first time for William Henry Woodgate for the murder of the child of his niece in Marlborough.
He asked Woodgate if the rope was comfortable or too tight and wished him a pleasant journey.
For each hanging he got £25.
Tom was barely able to keep out of prison himself and several times was taken out of prison and escorted to the area where he was to carry out his duties. He may well have been in the same prison as those he was to hang, most often for charges like drunkenness and obscene language.
The most famous of those he hanged was Minnie Dean, the only woman ever hanged in New Zealand in Invercargill. He allegedly demanded her clothing and shoes as part of his payment.
After Tom took the train away, he told a travelling football team about it. Upset, they tried to string him up from the hat rack but he was saved by the conductor.
Tom hadn’t learned his lesson though, because he had another close call at the Tauherenikau Hotel, where after he lost money at the horse races he tried to auction her boots.
While it is not certain, he was the current hangman at the time Rowland Herbert Edwards was hanged at Napier Prison for killing his wife and four children and then understood to be buried standing up in the prison yard.
The last man Tom hanged was James Ellis, known as John McKenzie who had killed Leonard Collins. He was hanged at The Terrace gaol in Wellington.
Only three years later Tom was dead. He was crushed by a tree which fell on him while he was working in the bush at Kauangaroa near Whanganui in 1908.
His death made headlines in newspapers across the country with the New Zealand Times running the headline Exit Tom Long.
But here’s the weird bit. Nowhere is there a record of where he was buried, just a cryptic mention that he was buried or lost at sea. An old newspaper report says he was buried at Neil Bros cemetery which might have been on private property but there is no note about where that is.
Please let us know in the comments if you know more. We are dying to know.
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