(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this date in 1828, William Dyon, 45, and his son, John, 23, were hanged for the murder of William’s brother, who was also named John.
The brothers had fallen out over their father’s inheritance; William Dyon Sr. had favored John’s family over William Jr.’s. Writing dramatically of the case in his book Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Doncaster, Stephen Wade described the brothers as
sons of a Lincolnshire farmer, and the two boys were so different that this tale almost attains a biblical resonance, with jealousy, brooding and resentment, and finally a deathly hatred that led one brother to a bloody death; and the other to the scaffold. It is a Cain and Abel story, but with more than one layer of evil: William Dyon was joined by his son, John, in the murder.
According to contemporary account, from his youth William was “of a Wild disposition, and addicted to low sports; in his youth, a frequenter of cocking matches [and] bull baits.” While William joined “scenes of riot and dissipation,” John was a much steadier sort and very helpful to his father on the farm. Dyon Sr. was wealthy and he rewarded his more filial son with 63 acres of land, followed by cash gifts amounting to £300 sterling, while giving William nothing.
When he drafted his will he also favored John, virtually ignoring his other son.
William and his son planned out the murder more than a week in advance, enlisting the help of another man named John White who had known both brothers for years. John Dyon was walking through the front gate of his farm, 800 yards from his house, when he was ambushed by his brother and nephew and shot to death on the evening of February 16, 1828. His family didn’t find him until morning.
The victim was lying in the grass by the gate, stiff and cold, shot in the chest. He was carrying about £40 and an expensive watch, so robbery was ruled out as a motive for his death.
The inquest that followed returned a verdict of “willful murder by person or persons unknown,” but suspicion had already fallen on the embittered relatives.
Both Dyon pere and fils had been seen loitering near the farm with guns; they claimed to be hunting, but it wasn’t the right time of year for that. They had also asked people what time the victim normally returned home from the Doncaster market.
Their enmity towards the victim was wellknown in the area and many witnesses remembered hearing William threaten his brother and even say outright that he planned to murder him. After John’s death he was seen boasting about his crime in the local pub.
The investigating magistrate actually performed some CSI work: he noticed a pair of boot tracks at the site of the murder and saw that the wearer had walked with their feet turned outward. William Dyon walked in that way.
Furthermore, the prints were from a left boot and a right boot; not many shoes were made left and rightfooted during that time period, but William owned a pair that was.
The two suspects produced an alibi, initially confirmed by William’s brotherinlaw and his servant: they were at home at the time of the murder. But this collapsed when both witnesses recanted. Then their accomplice, White, came forward with his evidence.
By the time of the trial, there wasn’t much of a defense left to offer. The jury deliberated five minutes before voting guilty for both defendants.
On the scaffold under 10,000 eyes, John acknowledged the justice of his sentence. William, who had been caught passing notes to his son in gaol enjoining him to keep his silence, merely announced that “the Lord will pardon my sins.” A friend of the victim wanted to buy the execution ropes, but he was turned away.
“The bodies,” Wade wrote, “were dissected by the anatomists and their skins tanned.”