(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this date in 1824, only three days after his indictment, Richard Overfield was hanged in Shrewsbury, England for the murder of his three-month-old stepson, Richard Jr.
The child died on September 21 the previous year. Overfield’s wife, Anne, rushed to the doctor’s after finding her little son in apparent agony. When she kissed the baby, she noticed his lips were white-colored and blistered and tasted bitter.
Little Richard Jr. died later that day in spite of the doctor’s attempts to save him.
“Overfield, it turns out,” notes Samantha Lyon in her book A Grim Almanac of Shropshire,
worked in a carpet factory and so had access to sulphuric acid. This he stole to administer to the baby. The already terrible picture this forms is made all the more grotesque when you know how sulphuric acid kills: the acid is so corrosive that it burns the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach when ingested. It can, and often does, cause the sufferer to experience severe thirst and to have difficulty breathing.
The motive came out during the trial: Overfield knew when he got married that Anne was pregnant with another man’s child. This was, in fact, why he married her in the first place.
The parish didn’t want to pay out welfare for yet another illegitimate baby, so they offered Overfield a lump sum of money to marry its mother. Any baby born more than a month after marriage would be considered legitimate and its purported father would have to support it.
Overfield accepted the parish’s offer, but although the baby bore his name, he told Anne he would never accept her son as his own. And since he already had the lump-sum payment, well …
“There seems to have been absolutely no step-paternal feelings on the elder Richard’s part,” notes David J. Cox’s book Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Shrewsbury and Around Shropshire:
[He] was heard to frequently express a hatred for the infant and on several occasions was reported as stating that he would not support his wife or her ‘bastard child.’
Matters came to a tragic head …
At his trial Overfield tried to blame the family cat: he’d seen it lying on top of the baby’s face, he said, and shooed it away, and little Richard started choking shortly thereafter.
Beyond that, he had little to say for himself. The jury showed its contempt for his so-called defense by convicting him after only five minutes’ deliberation.
Overfield made a full confession and expressed public repentance for his crime. He calmly accepted his fate.
Part of the Themed Set: Shropshire.