Oh Gentlemen, see, see dead Henrys wounds,
Open their congeal’d mouthes, and bleed afresh.
Blush, blush, thou lumpe of fowle Deformitie:
For ’tis thy presence that exhales this blood
From cold and empty Veines where no blood dwels.
Thy Deeds inhumane and unnaturall,
Provokes this Deluge most unnaturall.
There long persisted superstition* of ancient vintage that the wounds of a murder victim will bleed in the presence of the murderer.**
This date in 1688 saw the execution in Edinburgh of one Philip Standsfield (sometimes Stansfield or even Standfield) for parricide, his conviction being secured in part by the supposed accusation of his father’s corpse.
The prodigal firstborn of James Standsfield was an incorrigible scoundrel, and the state had a considerable circumstantial case to the effect that said scoundrel finally popped the old man to prevent disinheritance. (It also appeared that he’d tried to do it other times over the years.)
Circumstantial evidence is nice.
But how about some forensic evidence to really cinch a conviction? No DNA evidence here in the 17th century, so maybe something a little more … supernatural?
From A True Relation of a Barbarous Bloody Murther etc., available here.
The King’s Advocate insisted — over the objections of a defense attorney that “it was a superstitious observation, founded neither upon law nor reason” — that the corpse’s having bled on Philip Standsfield but none of the others in his party simultaneously attempting to move it “he must ascribe … to the wonderful Providence of God, who in this manner discovers murder.”
Divine forensics. That’s even better than the arson evidence Texas used to kill Cameron Willingham.
And it had the same result, to wit,
the said Philip Standsfield to be taken upon Wednesday next, being the 15th of February instant, to the Market-cross of Edinbrugh, and there, betwixt two and four o’clock in the afternoon, to be hanged on a gibbet till he be dead, and his tongue to be cut out and burnt upon a scaffold, and his right hand to be cut off and affixed to the east port of Haddingtoun, and his body to be carried to the Gallowlie betwixt Leith and Edinburgh, and there to be hanged up in chains; and ordains his name, fame, memory, and honours to be extinct, his arms to be riven forth and delete out of the books of arms …†
Well, you get the idea. Executed Today would like to apologize to the dempster of Edinburgh for keeping Philip Standsfield’s name, fame, and memory alive.
In our defense, we are hardly the only ones: this is thought to be the last time that Scottish law employed the bleeding-corpse “test”.
* Some other instances of purported “bleeding at the touch” may be perused here.
** In a 1927 piece in the Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Canadian jurist William Renwick Riddell says this folk belief “was wide spread and is not dead yet” and offers in a footnote (perhaps by way of explaining his interest) that “when at the Bar, I was once offered such evidence by my client; but I declined to use it.”
† The execution was botched, and the gibbeted body illicitly pulled down and tossed in a ditch — which is where the elder Standsfield’s had been discovered.