The image most associated with execution by shooting is that of a firing squad standing in a row, guns pointed towards the condemned. However, this isn’t the only way to execute by gunshot. If you’re content with killing one person at a time, a single executioner will do — and that’s the role Chavoret Jaruboon played as Thailand’s “last executioner”.
In criminal justice settings, firing squads have an edge over single executioner methods because they offer diffusion of responsibility. Having multiple people fire together decreases the probability of “failure” on two fronts.
First, it creates peer pressure, lessening the probability of someone backing out at the last minute. Second, it lightens the psychological burden on each squad member, as no single individual can be held responsible for the killing.
To drive this second point home, in many instances a subset of the squad receives blanks, but nobody is told beforehand if they belong to that subset. This further decreases the mental burden, as each squad member can choose to believe “I didn’t kill them because I had a blank.”
Mr. Jaruboon did not have this luxury. Until lethal injection replaced gunshot execution in 2003, Jaruboon executed 55 inmates at Bangkok’s Bang Kwang Prison (nicknamed the “Bangkok Hilton” by foreigners) — all by himself.
Near the end of his 35 year career as a corrections officer, Jaruboon actually was the only remaining executioner in all of Thailand. This is particularly remarkable given Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country that has heavy superstitions around karma and taking others’ lives. If only we could get inside the head of this man who must’ve shouldered an immense psychological burden.
Well actually, we can. In 2006, Jaruboon wrote a book called The Last Executioner: Memoirs of Thailand’s Last Prison Executioner, which is available in English. More recently, his story has reached Thai cinemas in a 2014 biopic also named The Last Executioner. Directed by the British-educated Thomas Waller and starring Vithaya Pansringarm as Jaruboon, this biopic offers a stirring, easily accessible deep dive into Jaruboon as not only an executioner, but also a regular person.
Though Waller directed and produced the film, veteran journalist Don Linder wrote its screenplay, building a close relationship with Jaruboon, his family, and his colleagues in the process. What results is a story about a man who was driven by compassion — for his family’s well-being — to take up a morbid line of work.
Jaruboon was not just an executioner; he was a husband, father of two children, and a musician. Torn between family and karma, he faced the weighty moral challenges before him — whether he’s killed innocents, whether he’s hurting his loved ones — with both equanimity and humanity. We see the portrait of a man who struggles with guilt, but ultimately finds peace. As Jaruboon poetically expresses in the film, he is like the end of a waterfall, not the beginning.
Whether you think capital punishment is right or wrong, The Last Executioner and Jaruboon’s story will help you gain a new appreciation for another layer of moral calculus that’s involved with executions. Taking someone’s life is never easy, even if you have backing from laws and institutions. Ultimately, even those with a license to kill must still contend with culture, family, and human nature. The Last Executioner helps reveal this fact at a highly personal level using the one-of-a-kind story of Chavoret Jaruboon.
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The Last Executioner (Thai: เพชฌฆาต) — Dialog in Thai. Directed by Tom Waller. First released July 2014. Running time 1hr 35 min. Starring Vithaya Pansringarm, David Asavanond, and Penpak Sirikul.