Jack the Ripper’s Canonical Victims

Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly are considered Jack the Ripper’s canonical victims, so-called because their murders had the same pattern with the same modus operandi, and these five women are considered to be his officially accepted victims. The murders also happened in a relatively short period in 1888, between 31 August and 9 November.

Jack the Ripper, also known as the Whitechapel Murderer or Leather Apron, became known for operating in the slum areas in and around London’s Whitechapel district. Attacks attributed to him typically involved female prostitutes who lived and worked in the area and whose throats were cut prior to him committing some sort of abdominal mutilation. In fact, because of the mutilations and removal of internal organs, it was initially suspected the killer had some sort of anatomical or surgical knowledge.

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William Corder and the Red Barn Murder

William Corder. Author’s collection.

In 1827, 24-year-old William Corder committed a notorious murder when he shot his lover, the daughter of a mole-catcher, 26-year-old Maria Marten. The murder came to be known as the Red Barn Murder because it happened after Corder arranged to meet Marten at a local landmark in Polstead, Suffolk, England, called the red barn. Corder pretended that he was going to elope with Marten and go to Ipswich to marry her.

Corder and Marten began a relationship in March of 1826. At the time Corder was well-known for being a ladies’ man and for being a fraudster. One fraud he committed was against his own father, when he sold his father’s pigs, and another fraud occurred when he helped a local thief named Samuel “Beauty” Smith steal a pig. There was also a third incident where Corder passed some fraudulent checks. Nonetheless, no sort of punishment by his father or anyone else seemed to induce Corder to behave, and, so, his father finally shipped him off to London.

Shortly after Corder arrived in London, one of his brothers drowned. Corder’s father then recalled his son so he could help on the farm. However, misfortune again occurred because within 18 months of his return, Corder’s father and three other brothers died. This left Corder and his mother to run the farm. Continue reading

Notorious Captain James Lowry

Captain James Lowry, Author's Collection
Captain James Lowry, Author’s Collection

In 1750, a Scottish Captain named James Lowry was commanding a merchant shipped named the “Molly” from London to Jamaica and back again. Although he possessed agreeable features, he was a cruel captain, and it did not take long for his crew of 14 to despise him because of his cruelty. It happened during the return trip, when one of the tars named Keninth Hossack tripped while on the quarterdeck and claimed he was sick. This infuriated the 5 foot 7-inch Lowry, and he “came like a fury” at Hossack and ordered that he be tied up so he could be flogged. Lowry had one of Hossack’s arms secured to the halyards and the other to the main shrouds, and then Lowry “took a rope in his hand, and beat him in a most unmerciful manner, telling him that he was an idle fellow, not willing to perform his duty; for although he pretended to be afflicted with sickness, yet the captain would not believe him.”[1] Continue reading

Colonel Edward Marcus Despard’s Funeral

Colonel Despard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Colonel Edward Marcus Despard’s was arrested in 1803 for treason in what became known as the Despard Plot. His trial began on 7 February, and the public was so enthralled that newspapers could hardly provide enough coverage. Ultimately, Despard and his co-conspirators were found guilty and sentenced to death on 21 February. A crowd of 20,000 came to watch the execution, and it was one of the largest attended spectacles until the funeral of the famous naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson.

After Despard’s death, preparations for his funeral began, and his body was released to his friends. Almost immediately, the famous wax modeler, Madame Tussaud, contacted Despard’s friends. She wanted to make arrangements to make a death mask of Despard’s while his body was at the undertaker. This would be her first death mask in England since her arrival in 1802. She expected that by obtaining Despard’s death mask, the popularity of her exhibition, known as “Curtius’s Grand Cabinet of Curiosities,” would be greatly increased.

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The Despard Plot, Trial, and Execution

Colonel Despard. Public Domain.

Colonel Edward Marcus Despard was an Irish soldier who served in the British Army. During the American Revolutionary War, he and his troops were victorious at the Battle of the Black River. His success was part of the reason that he was later appointed Superintendent in British Honduras. However, in 1790, he was recalled to London and questioned about his conduct while there.

Unhappy, over the ordeal, Despard became interested in revolutionary politics. The story begins after he joined the United Irishmen to fight for equal rights for the Irish. When war with France broke out, the United Irishmen went underground and backed the French in an invasion against Ireland. Unfortunately, the invasion failed, and in response, the passage of the Act of Union went into effect on 1 January 1801, abolishing the Irish Parliament and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Continue reading

Burke and Hare: Two Edinburgh Murderers

William Burke and William Hare at Burke’s Trial. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

William Burke and William Hare were two murderers who committed a series of sixteen murders in Edinburgh in 1828. Burke was probably the older of the two men as he had been born in 1792. His parents were middle class and he was born in Ulster province in Urney, Ireland. Burke had married but deserted his wife after fighting with her father. When he left Ireland, he moved to Scotland, found lodgings near Falkirk, and worked as laborer on the Union Canal. During that time, he began a relationship with Helen McDougal, whom he affectionately called Nelly, and, in 1827, he and Nelly moved to Edinburgh where he eventually worked as a cobbler. Continue reading

Execution of the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino

Effigies of Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino With a Scene of the Execution, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Images of Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino with a scene of their execution. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock and Arthur Elphinstone, 6th Lord Balmerino were taken prisoners at the Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Both men were tried and sentenced to death for treason. Their executions were carried out at Tower Hill on 18 August 1746.

The event began at six o’clock, when “a troop of life-guards, one of horse-grenadiers, and 1000 of the foot-guards … marched from the parade in St James’s park thro’ the city to Tower-Hill.” Around eight o’clock, the sheriffs of London arrived, along with others, as well as the executioner. They then dined together at the Mitre tavern on Fenchurch-Street before being conducted to the scaffold, which was about thirty yards away from the tavern.

Preparations at the scaffold began at ten o’clock when a “blocked was fixed on the stage, and covered with black cloth, and several sacks of sawdust … were brought … to strew on it; soon after their coffins were brought, covered with black cloth, ornamented with gilt nails.” Each coffin had a plate with the appropriate person’s name inscribed and an image of their coronet: Guilelmus Comes de Kilmarnock and Arthurus Dominus de Balmerino.

Fifteen minutes later, the sheriffs left in a procession to the outward gate of the Tower. There they knocked and requested possession of the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino. The men were then delivered into their possession, and, soon after, the procession moved in a slow and solemn manner in the following order: Continue reading

Margaret Dickson was Executed, Survived, and Pardoned

Margaret Dickson was Executed, Survived, and Pardoned: Margaret Dickson
Margaret Dickson rising from her coffin. Public domain.

Margaret (or Margret) Dickson was executed, survived, and pardoned, and because of it she was nicknamed “ill hangit Maggy Dickson.” Her story begins with her birth in Musselburgh, Scotland, near Edinburgh in 1702. When she was an adult, she married a fisherman and together they had several children. However, Dickson found herself practically single because her husband was impressed and sent to sea aboard a warship.

In Scotland, at the time, any woman who committed fornication was punished publicly. The punishment occurred over three Sundays with the fornicator seated in the most conspicuous place in church and receiving a public rebuke from the minister. This spectacle resulted in people attending church who never attended just so that they could see offenders shamed. Female offenders found the punishment so embarrassing, some “destroyed the fruits of their amours, rather than be made a spectacle to all the inhabitants of the parish.”[1] Continue reading

Standen Versus Standen: 18th Century Man Attempts to Bastardize His Own Son

Standen Versus StandenOn 5 June 1789, at Westminster-Hall, a case was brought by a son against his father in Standen versus Standen. If the son did not prevail, his father’s marriage to his mother would be discredited and the son would be “ruined and undone.” The case began when the son, Charles, produced the registry and showed that the entry of marriage had been made and signed by the clergyman. Continue reading

John Bellingham, Assassin of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval

John Bellingham, Assassin of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval
John Bellingham. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Russian ship Soleure (or Sojus) belonged to Solomon van Brienen and Vassiley Popoff, and it was lost at sea in 1803. At the time, it was insured through Lloyd’s of London. The ship’s owners filed a claim to receive restitution for their loss. Unfortunately, Lloyd’s of London received an anonymous letter alleging the ship had been sabotaged, and, so, they refused to pay compensation to the owners. At the time, John Bellingham was working in Russia as an export representative. Van Brienen believed Bellingham had sent the letter to Lloyd’s of London and, therefore, he and Popoff took retaliatory action against Bellingham by claiming Bellingham owed them a debt of 4,890 rubles. Continue reading