From the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, March 31, 1823.
SHOCKING MURDER — At Shrewsbury Assizes, on Saturday, John Newton, a Farmer, living at Severn-Hall, near Bridgenorth, was tried for the Wilful Murder of his wife, Sarah Newton, by violently beating and striking her, by throwing her down on a sledge, and by kicking her, (she being five months gone with child), in consequence of which she languished three hours and then expired.
The provocation on her part was — having misapplied the trifling sum of three shillings.
Her children stood by at the time (the eldest not more than eight years of age) and exclaimed — “O dear! do not dad!”
The evidence clearly proved the initial act of the prisoner.
Mr. Justice Best, in passing sentence, spoke to the following effect: —
John Newton, you have been convicted, upon the clearest and most satisfactory evidence, of the dreadful crime of murder — a crime upon which Heaven has imposed a sentence. It was recorded in Holy Writ, that, “Whosoever shed a man’s blood, by man his blood should be shed.” You have deprived of life one whom it was your duty to protect and cherish: and for what cause? Why, because your wife had misapplied the trifling sum of three shillings.
Your humane and kind-hearted creditor had endeavoured to prevent you exercising your brutal chastisement upon your wife, and he told you he would rather lose this trifling sum than you should punish your wife. You promised him that you would not beat her. Notwithstanding this promise, notwithstanding she was in a state that not even a monster would have laid violent hands upon her, the dreadful threat you had uttered four hours before was put into execution.
You beat her to the ground; you kicked her on a part of her body which might almost in all cases have caused death, but especially in the state she was in. You acted as a most inhuman father, destroying that life which owed its origin to you; and you killed your wife at a time when it might be thought that the most savage, the most ferocious of mankind would be disarmed.
When she was lying in an alarming state from the bruises she had received at your hands, you refused to send for medical advice, and when she was lying on the floor you abused her in addition to your cruel conduct.
After thirty years’ experience in Courts of Justice, I confess I have never witnessed such savage conduct as yours. I hope to God you will obtain that mercy you were not disposed to show here. May you apply to him with a contrite and repentant heart, who is the distributor of all mercy, during the very short time you have to live; for no mercy can you obtain on this side the grave. You will have the assistance of a clergyman, who is better qualified than I am to teach you true repentance: and may God of his infinite mercy, so dispose your heart that it may be better fitted for another world.
There now remains for me only the painful duty of passing the sentence of the law — which is, that you be taken hence to the place whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, on Monday next, where you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and your body shall then be given to the surgeons for dissection, and may God have mercy on your soul!
The prisoner, who is a robust-looking man of forty, showed little emotion during the trial, or when the verdict was given: but while the Judge was addressing him he seemed bewildered — looking wildly about him — moved, as if involuntarily, up and down as sick and once or twice attempted to turn away. He once put his handkerchief to his face, but did not want to shed tears.
On this date in 1718,* the vengeful tsar Peter the Great staged a horrible execution on Moscow’s Red Square.
Stepan Glebov was the collateral damage of Peter’s ferocious conflict with his ill-favored crown prince Tsarevich Alexei — the whelp who had only recently been repatriated to his glowering father after fleeing Russia altogether, to cap a lifetime of letting dad down. Alexei was back in Peter’s clutches, and a few months from the events in this post would be shockingly knouted to death at Peter’s orders.
This Freudian clash also mapped sharply onto Russia’s political schisms (and many of the links in this post are to Russian pages). Alexei was the son of Peter’s first wife, Eudoxia [or Evdokia] Feodorovna Lopukhina, a princess whom the teenage Peter had been required to wed as part of the political logrolling involved in overcoming the 1680s regency of his sister Sofia.
Peter had achieved that victory, definitively, and once it was secured it didn’t take him long to tire of both Eudoxia and of the stagnant boyar class she represented. Peter was all about westernizing the motherland; what better way to start than by immuring his Russian bride in a monastery** and grabbing a German merchant’s daughter for a mistress?
The blows were borne together by Eudoxia, by her devout son Alexei, and by that part of traditional and Orthodox Russia horrified by Peter’s innovations. Resentments ran along the familiar channels, here to an immoderate fantasy of deliverance come Peter’s death and there to dangerous plans to immanentize same.
When exposed by to Peter’s hostile gaze little distance would there seem between these varietals.
When Alexei returned to face Peter’s investigation, the old man turned his harsh scrutiny on the ex, knowing her to be a locus of opposition. She was found living outside the monastery in secular garb, having taken an officer named Stepan Glebov as her lover. Their correspondence was ransacked by persecutors determined to discover indicia of treasonable scheming therein. Dozens of associates and monastery monks and nuns would be caught up in the affair, damned for anything from failing to prevent the former queen’s dalliance to plotting against the life of Tsar Peter. Most were stripped of rank and sent to exile with various forms of corporal punishment — whipping, severed nostrils, tongues sliced out — but several would be tortured to death or executed on the breaking-wheel including Dositheus, Bishop of Rostov, a confidante of Eudoxia who had allegedly prophesied Alexei’s triumph over his father, and Alexander Kikin, a mentor of Alexei’s who had helped to arrange his escape from Russia.
But upon Glebov, miserable man, Peter would give free rein to his amazing talent for cruelty: the lover to be impaled alive on a stake artfully inserted to miss all vital organs so as to maximize his suffering; some accounts even give it out that the naked Glebov was bundled in furs for the freezing winter’s execution, that he might endure his pains the longer.
Glebov survived impalement for over 14 hours, only dying after 7 a.m. on the morning of March 16. Folklore (it’s probably just that) has it that, importuned on that stake by the tsar to admit to the treasonable conspiracy, Glebov justifiably retorted that he had refused such a confession under unspeakable torment in Peter’s dungeons, so why would he break now? “Depart, and let me die in peace so that you may live without peace.”
Eudoxia’s brother Avram was also put to death in December 1718. She herself was shut up in Shlisselburg fortress for the balance of Peter’s life, but she would survive to see her grandson (Alexei’s son) take the throne in 1727 as Peter II.
* Julian date: it was March 26 on the Gregorian calendar.
Despite the late date — the entire cosmology of witchery was coming apart by the 18th century — she fit the classical demographic profile of a witch hunt victim. Wagemann was an aged — 66 or 67 at the time of her trial, she thought — and penniless woman who knew her way around medicinal herbs and had a pre-existing reputation for witchcraft.
When the burning times were truly aflame, marginal people like this could easily be ignited by the accusations a torturer wrung from the last luckless soul to be named to the Black Sabbath. By 1716, when Wagemann went on trial, the case strangely conjoined an ancient superstition to a ponderous Enlightenment legal process, with an 879-page codex of the interrogations with vague witness accusations endorsed by jurists at the University of Tübingen.*
There weren’t any raging famines or plagues afoot that demanded supernatural attribution. It seems in this case that before the neighbors could accuse her of drying up their cows and such, Anna Maria Wagemann was targeted thanks to the oldest enmity in the book: family politics. A daughter-in-law of our principal was either quite convinced she had married into sorcery or else quite weary of the dynamic at family meals, and it was her denunciations (supported by her 9- and 12-year-old daughters) that brought Wagemann to book. It’s difficult to piece together the chain of causation; this woman, Anna Margarethe Wagemann, was herself suspected of witchcraft and jailed for many weeks,** so her charge too might have been issued under duress. In the end, it was only Anna Maria who was tried, and Anna Margarethe gave evidence against her — although Anna Margarethe was also punished by being made to witness the execution with her young daughters, and then being expelled from Fürfeld.
On December 27, 1864, Richard Hale was hanged at the Stafford Gaol for the murder of his eight-year-old daughter, Eliza Silletto.
Little Eliza’s body had been found in a cornfield in Coseley in the West Midlands region of England on August 2 that year. Her body was so badly decomposed that at first it was impossible to determine the gender, but it was assumed to be a girl because it was wearing girls’ clothing. Although authorities couldn’t determine the precise cause of death due to the decomposition, they believed the child’s throat had been cut. The body was eventually identified as Eliza. Her father had reported her missing on July 20.
Richard Hale was known in the area as a bit of a hard case: he had recently done time for manslaughter. The victim in that case was his wife, Eliza’s mother, who had starved to death.
After his release, he shacked up with Cecilia Baker and, although not legally married, they lived as man and wife. He had been heard to say he wished his daughter was “out of the way.”
Both Hale and his girlfriend were both arrested and charged with murder, but Baker had to be released for lack of evidence.
However, a witness came forward and said he thought he might have seen the murder. According to John Jones, he was walking near the cornfield when he saw a man and a woman pushing a little girl back and forth between them, harder and harder until the woman actually threw the girl at the man and then turned and started walking away. The little girl started crying loudly, then the sobs stopped abruptly.
Jones hadn’t reported the incident at the time because he didn’t find it suspicious. After all, who commits a murder in broad daylight right in front of a witness?
Jones identified Eliza’s father and his paramour as the man and the woman he had seen that day. His statement gave the authorities the evidence they needed to re-arrest Cecilia Baker for her role in the crime.
Given Jones’s identification and Hale’s criminal history, it wasn’t hard to convince a jury of the couple’s guilt. Hale was sentenced to death, but Cecilia’s death sentence was respited because she was pregnant. Her sentence was eventually commuted and she served a life term at the Knaphill Female Convict Prison in Surrey — the same place where the notorious poisoner Florrie Maybrick did time decades later.
For his part, Hale suffered a public double execution alongside an unrelated murderer, Charles Brough. The visibly nervous Hale pled his innocence all the way to the gallows.
On this date in 1886, 45-year-old William S. Wilson was hanged for murder in Jonesboro, Illinois. He had killed his wife, Margaret.
Wilson was good at producing offspring — he was the father of at least seven children and possibly as many as nine — but not so good at providing for them. At Christmas in 1885, he left his family and went to Kentucky, leaving his destitute wife and kids only $5 in cash (the equivalent of about $130 in modern terms) and very little fuel. When supplies ran out in early January, several neighbors took pity on Margaret Wilson and her brood and banded together to cut enough firewood to get them through the winter.
When William returned home on January 7, however, he was furious when he learned Margaret had shamed him by accepting charity.
Wilson berated his wife for allowing the neighbors to act. He chased the heavily pregnant woman out of their cabin and shot her down in the mud and slush. The sight of her near-term unborn baby vainly kicking against the interior wall of her abdomen appalled witnesses, who could do nothing to save it. Details such as these illustrate the brutality that often characterizes these all-too-common wife-killing cases.
William had shot Margaret twice: once in the chest inside the house, and once again outdoors as she was running away. As she lay dying on the frozen ground he walked away. He didn’t get far before he was arrested.
A contemporary newspaper article speculated that William might be crazy, noting that he had been “affected for a long time with some incurable disease” and “is not regarded by some as sane.” But it wasn’t enough. William paid the ultimate price for his crime eleven months after the murder.
Lamb’s son was the resident bully at the local Braden River School until one day that January he picked a fight with the son of Dave Kennedy and surprisingly got his — the bully’s — ass kicked.
Like many a child since, young master Lamb sent his problem up the generational chain of command. Ed Lamb, a mill hand, raised the beef with Dave Kennedy, a farmer, when the latter stopped by the mill a few days later to sell his wares, even menacing Kennedy with a knife.
But for the second time, a Kennedy went all lion on a Lamb and overpowered his antagonist. Enraged and embarrassed, Lamb stalked away to his nearby home, got a shotgun, and wasted Dave Kennedy. Masculinity: vindicated. Stunned bystanders allowed Lamb to escape.
Our Manatee County correspondent gives the surreal vignette from his own family history of the Kennedy children — being dismissed from school at news of the murder — walking home on a dirt road that very day and passing the disgraced Lamb family on a wagon with their possessions, heading out of town. “One of the children standing beside the roadway became frightened thinking that Ed Lamb would pop out fo the trunk at any moment.” He didn’t: Ed was on a lam all his own, and was recaptured the next morning and spirited away to Tampa to protect him from lynching. Lamb spent the months between his conviction and his execution harrying the local newspaper with letters entreating folks straighten up and get right with God, letters that notably failed to breathe word one of apology to the Kennedies.
The drop fell at 12 minutes past 12:00 non. But the rope slipped and the prisoner was raised a second time and shot into eternity. He was rendered unconscious by the first shock and never knew that he was let to fall a second time. His neck was broken by the second fall and he was pronounced dead by Dr. John Holten of Sarasota. He mounted the gallows cool and fearless and died without a murmur or a struggle. Inside the jail, 40 witnesses were in the jail when the execution took place, the gallows being inside the building. A few white people and a great many Negroes were congregated around the jail, but perfect order was maintained.
Lamb’s son, brother and sister-in-law were present when he mounted the scaffold, but were overcome and left before the drop fell. The doomed man kissed them goodbye and asked them to meet him in heaven. His wife was unable to come to the jail to see him for the last time. Was photographed. Lamb dressed himself for the scaffold with great deliberation. And at his request, was photographed after being attired for death. He talked freely. But in his last speech he said nothing about the crime for which he suffered. He said that he was willing to die. That he had made his peace with God and wanted all of his heirs to meet him in a better world. Sheriff Wyatt was cool and carried out his part well. The noose was adjusted and the black cap pulled down over the prisoner’s face. And the trap sprung that sent the murderer to meet his maker. The death warrant directed that the execution take place in private between the hours of 11:30 and 12:00, but the sheriff allowed the condemned man 12 minutes longer lease on life.
Manatee County paid Coursey and Barnett $16.70 for Lamb’s hangin’ suit, and paid J.W. Wilhelm & Co. $21.35 for his coffin.
According to a note in the memoirs (French, natch) kept by Le Puy master tanner Antoine Jacmon, “the portrait and effigie of the noble Jean de Mourgues” was publicly beheaded in place of the flesh of the noble Jean de Mourgues, as penalty for the latter’s attempt to murder his own uncle.
According to the author’s note, this punishment had so little effect that Jean de Mourgues successfully carried out the assassination in a hail of gunfire two years later.
On this date in 1568, Leonor de Cisneros was burned as a heretic in Valladolid — nine years late, by her reckoning.
Leonor de Cisneros (English Wikipedia entry | a token Spanish Wikipedia entry | the much more detailed German) and her much older husband Antonio Herrezuelo* were among the first converts to the Lutheran circle in Valladolid funded by Don Carlos de Seso. The Inquisition got its hands on these wrongthinkers in the late 1550s and the result was an auto de fe on October 8, 1559 at which King Philip personally witnessed the Christlike suffering of Don Carlos and 12 of his adherents.
However, while 13 died, dozens of others succumbed to the Inquisition’s pressure to recant, and live. Leonor de Cisneros was one of them.
The monstrous spectacle of the auto de fe featured an elaborate symbolic language encoded for the spectators in the ritual sanbenitos in which the accused were made to parade, such as the example pictured at right.** Different patterns denoted which heretics were bound for the stake, and which had reconciled to a wary Church … and it is said that when Antonio, en route to his pyre draped in illustrations of hellfire to represent his fatal obduracy, beheld his wife in the colors of a penitent, he savagely reproached her cowardice.
Obviously shaken, Leonor returned to her prison with a prayer in her soul and a flea in her ear. Soon enough she had relapsed into her heresy, and this time no punishment or exhortation could move her — knowing as she well did that in her stubbornness she solicited her martyrdom.
* Leonor was born in the mid-1530s, so would have married and converted to Protestantism around the age of 18. Antonio was born about 1513.
At noon on this date in 1862, William Robert Taylor was hanged at Lancaster Castle before a large crowd (some reports place the number at 100,000) for a shocking spree of violence that took four people’s lives, three of them children. In the 38yearold man’s pocket was a handkerchief which, he was promised, would be delivered to his wife after his death.
The story that ended with Taylor’s execution began in October 1861, when he rented a shop in Manchester, England, from the real estate agency Evan Mellor and Son. The following month, Taylor complained to Mellor about the boiler, saying it was broken and the pipes were leaking and might burst at any time.
Whether Mellor had the repairs done or not was never established for sure. But the fact of the matter is that a few months later, on one Sunday in January, the pipes froze and then burst, killing one of Taylor’s four children: Maria Jane, aged seven. She was badly scalded and suffered horribly before dying.
Taylor asked Mellor to give him £50 in compensation for the tragedy.* Mellor refused.
The two men had already come into conflict with each other because Taylor was months behind in his rent. Now, they were enemies.
The griefstricken family soon ran into further financial trouble. They were short on food, short on coal, and had to bury little Maria in an unmarked pauper’s grave because they couldn’t afford a funeral. Within weeks, creditors showed up to repossess everything they owned, taking even the laundry that was hung out to dry, and snatching a comb right out of of the oldest child’s hand as she was fixing her hair.
The Taylor family’s belongings were not worth enough to pay the back rent, however, and Mellor instituted eviction proceedings. Taylor had no legal or even practical basis for continued resistance, but he had the embittered vitor of pride and injury to pit against his Dickensian landlord. Stubbornly, Taylor insisted on remaining with his family at their home in Britannia Buildings rather than submitting to a workhouse, even though by this time they were hungry and cold and had no furniture and nothing to wear but the clothes they stood in.
And Taylor pere had a seething grudge against Evan Mellor.
On May 16, 1862, Evan Mellor arrived at his offices at St. James’s Chambers, South King Street, and was met in the stairwell by William and his wife, Martha Ann Taylor. Both of them were armed, Martha with a gun and William with a carving knife ten inches long. Without warning, William Taylor stabbed Mellor in the chest eleven times, once penetrating the heart. The dying man stumbled downstairs and a porter saw him and rushed to his aid. In response, Martha Taylor shot the porter. The couple fled from the scene.
The porter recovered from his injury, but Mellor died a short time later. The Taylors were eventually caught and taken to the police station. William’s response to his arrest was, “Thank God, I have now finished my work.” He gave the police the keys to his home at Britannia Buildings and told them to use the smallest one to unlock the back bedroom.
When two police officers arrived at residence and went in the back, they discovered a tragic scene: lying on the floor were the bodies of the Taylors’ three children. They had been washed and their hair had been combed carefully. They were dressed in long, clean white nightgowns with black sashes, and had black ribbons tied around their wrists and necks. Labels pinned on their chests gave their names and ages: Mary Hannah, age 11, Hannah Maria, age 6, and William Robert Jr., age 4. On the back of each of the labels was an identical note reading:
We are six, but one at Harpurhey Cemetery lies, thither our bodies take. Mellor and Son are our cruel murderers but God and our loving parents will avenge us. Love rules here; we are all going to our sister, to part no more.
(The Taylors kept their silence as to the manner of the children’s deaths. Authorities had the little ones autopsied but could never fix on a cause: their organs were healthy, their bodies unbruised, and there were no evident indications of either poisoning or suffocation.)
William was charged with the murder of Evan Mellor, and Martha with being an accessory to murder. (She told police that she and not her husband had killed Mellor, but the evidence proved otherwise.) They appeared at their joint trial dressed in mourning. In court, no mention was made of Mary, Hannah and William Jr.’s deaths.
There was no question of William having committed the crime; multiple witnesses had seen what happened, he’d been arrested with the bloody knife still in his possession, and he had confessed. His lawyer had no alternative but to plead insanity: that William’s mind had snapped under the weight of his grief and financial ruin. The defense attorney stressed that, although his client was a killer, this didn’t mean he would be dangerous in the future:
He asked them carefully to consider the character and circumstances of the murder itself. Horrible as it was, fierce and violent as it was, it was of such a nature as could hardly be accounted for by any of the ordinary mental conditions in which men are placed. They were not dealing with a man who up to this time had given any indication of a ruffianly or brutal disposition; but with a father of the deepest affection who succeeded in inspiring the woman standing beside him with a devotion almost unparalleled. They were not dealing with a bloodthirsty man.
It didn’t work, and the judge’s summation seemed calculated to crush any empathy the jurymen might have felt for the murderer. William, he remarked, was “acting under a strong feeling of resentment” and so he was “a perfectly sane man, acting under a sane impulse.”
Guilty (left), not guilty (right).
In the end, Martha was acquitted of being an accessory to Mellor’s murder after her defense counsel called the eyewitness testimony into question, but William was convicted of murder.
Mary, Hannah and William Jr. would have been consigned to a pauper’s grave like their sister, but the community took up a subscription and raised £60 to pay for their funerals and a fine headstone, next to where Maria is buried in Harpurhey Cemetery.
Their father lies buried elsewhere, in a mass grave with other executed convicts.
Phrenology fans will surely enjoy the Liverpool Mercury‘s September 15, 1862 gallows reportage.
Hanged along with Taylor on the same occasion was a Lancashire trade unionist named John Ward. Ward and some fellow bricklayers had by cover of darkness destroyed some 18,000 bricks belonging to a combative boss. Britain’s grand tradition of machine wrecking was by this point no longer a capital crime by its own right, but returning from a satisfactory operation the masked workers were challenged by two policemen in Ashton-under-Lyne and one of those cops was shot dead in the resulting affray. Ward paid that forfeit.
* Historical inflation measurements get a little dodgy when the increments are centuries, but this 50 quid would equate to a demand for several thousand pounds today.