I find myself delving again into the very murky world of the Victorian serial killer. This case, however, is quite different to the ones I have looked at previously and not just because it deals with the sad crime of infanticide but because it highlights the press's very fickle attitude towards the Victorian murderess.
The woman in question, Rebecca Smith, came to national attention (and notoriety) in June 1849 after the sudden death of her one-month-old son, Richard, in the town of Westbury, Wiltshire. Considering the high prevalence of infant mortality in this period and the poverty of his parents, Richard's death was not immediately noticed by the local authorities. In fact, it was not until the whispers of poison in Rebecca's neighbourhood had grown so loud that the coroner was forced to sit up and take action. On 22 June, he ordered Richard's body to be exhumed and for a post-mortem examination to be conducted.
At the inquest into Richard's death, Rebecca Smith was the star attraction and judged guilty by the press before the evidence had been heard. Described as a "forbidding-looking woman" in her forties, members of the press were struck by her "most indifferent manner" throughout the proceedings. The press were quickly vindicated, however, when it was revealed that Richard had indeed died as a result of arsenic poisoning. Furthermore, on the question of who had administered it, the evidence against Rebecca Smith was overwhelming. Several witnesses testified that Smith had asked them for arsenic shortly after giving birth to Richard. She claimed that her house was overrun with rats and mice which she intended to kill. But nobody had any poison so, on 25 May, she asked a young girl called Caroline Mackey to go to Mr. Taylor's, a local druggists, and buy some arsenic for her. When Mackey's mother found out, she forbade her daughter from going and Smith's hopes of obtaining arsenic were briefly shattered. However, on 7 June, a local woman named Prudence Mead agreed to accompany Smith to Taylor's shop and act as a witness while she bought some arsenic. Smith had no problem buying the arsenic - as the sale of poisons were unregulated at this time - but she changed her story, telling Taylor that the arsenic was for her sister who had problems with mice. Later that evening, Smith's baby, Richard, was seized with pains and vomiting which persisted until his death on 12 June.
Also at the inquest, it was revealed that Richard was not the only baby of Smith's who had died in infancy. In fact, over the last eighteen years, she had given birth to eleven babies, the eldest of whom was the only survivor. All of these babies had died in infancy and some in rather suspicious circumstances. The following deaths were noted at the inquest:
When asked by the coroner, Smith declined to make any comment on her case and had nothing to say directly to the jury. (For the press, this was proof of her guilt). She was committed to trial for the murder of her son, Richard Smith, while the coroner ordered the bodies of two of her other children to be exhumed and examined by a surgeon. The babies in question were Sarah (died 1841) and Edward (died 1844). Like Richard, an examination of their stomachs revealed that they had both died of arsenic poisoning. However, these deaths were not officially linked to Rebecca Smith because it was not clear who had administered it nor when it was administered.
Rebecca Smith stood trial for the murder of her son on 9 August 1849 in Devizes, Wiltshire. With the overwhelming evidence against her, it did not take the jury long to find her guilty of murder and for the judge to pass the sentence of death. The jury did, however, recommend Rebecca Smith to mercy but not because they recommended a reprieve; they wanted her to have a few days to reflect on the horrible crime she had committed. In the words of Mr. Justice Creswell:
"Remember, that in a few days, your life must go, and then you will commence an existence, good or evil, to endure for ever."
While awaiting execution, Smith confessed to the chaplain that she had murdered seven of her children in the same manner as Richard. She also admitted how she had carried out these crimes: by rubbing the arsenic onto her breast so that the child would ingest it while feeding. As shocking as this was (and is), Rebecca Smith believed that she was doing her children a favour by saving them from a life of "want" and deprivation. It was well-known among Rebecca's friends and acquaintances that her husband, Philip, was prone to bouts of drunkenness and thought nothing of squandering the family's meagre finances on alcohol.
On the day of her execution, the press praised Smith's "becoming" demeanour and highlighted the strength of her religious conviction. The press also painted a very sad picture of her domestic life:
"From the first week of her marriage, down to the last…he (her husband) had been given to drunkenness and "it was that", she said, had driven her to her crimes. He scarcely ever brought home a shilling of his wages. She herself toiled hard in the field all day, and at night she came home and washed , and did all the household work. With nothing, then, to maintain the family, but what she herself earned, which was four shillings per week…the fear that the children would come to want operated so powerfully upon her, that she destroyed them."
It is interesting to note that the newspapers did not record any of the gory details of her execution, as was common in other reports. For them, her confession and genuine story of poverty had transformed Rebecca Smith from a cold-hearted killer to a desperate, almost tragic, mother. She was executed on 23 August 1849, in front of a large crowd in Devizes.
The Bath Chronicle, 5 July 1849.
Lloyd's Weekly, 29 July 1849.
The Standard, 11 August 1849.
The Globe, 24 August 1849.
Murder is, by its nature, a secretive and deceptive business. Historically, it is widely accepted that some of England's most prolific murderers and murderesses have killed far more people than they were ever prosecuted for. Let's take Mary Ann Cotton, for example, who is generally regarded as the Victorian era's first serial killer. She was executed in 1873 for the murder of her stepson, Frederick. But, it is widely believed that she killed up to 21 people. Of these, there is strong evidence to show that she was responsible for the deaths of 11 children, three husbands, one lover and her own mother, though she was never charged with these offences.
But after researching the criminal career of Sarah Chesham for an upcoming book chapter (more details to follow soon), I would dispute Cotton's status as England's first serial killer. Like Cotton, Chesham was found guilty of one murder - that of her husband, Richard - and was executed in 1851. Five years earlier, she escaped the gallows after being acquitted for the murders of her sons, James and Joseph, who were poisoned with arsenic. However, all of the evidence points to her guilt but, just like Mary Ann Cotton, we will never know the extent of her involvement.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I came across the case of Jonathan Balls, a serial killer who died in 1846 but was believed to have killed (an estimated) eight people, before taking his own life. This case is of particular significance since it predates both Cotton and Chesham, suggesting that Balls may well have been the first serial killer in Victorian England. Sadly, however, as he never stood trial for these crimes, there is a natural element of doubt and uncertainly. Nevertheless, I believe his story is one worth repeating…
When Jonathan Balls died on 20 April 1846 , the village of Happisburgh in Norfolk breathed a communal sigh of relief. Balls had few friends in the community and was widely regarded as being a man of "peculiar habits and unamiable manners." In his youth, he had been accused of a number of crimes, including arson and theft, but had escape prosecution every time, owing to a lack of evidence.
At the time of his death, Balls was in his 82nd year and his manner of dying did not catch the attention of the local authorities, perhaps because of his advanced age. But the people of Happisburgh reacted in a very different manner and not just because they disliked the old man. His was the latest in a long string of Balls' family deaths: his granddaughter, Ann Elizabeth Pestle, had died just three days before Jonathan; his wife, Elizabeth, had died six months earlier, in December 1845; and his grandson, Samuel, died in September 1845. All of these family members, including Jonathan, had died very suddenly and all had perished after suffering a bout of intense vomiting and pain in the chest.
Locals petitioned the county coroner, Mr. Pilgrim, to investigate these deaths but Pilgrim ignored them. Having recently received a circular from local magistrates on the issue of inquests, he had to think very carefully about investigating a death because of the associated costs. But public feeling in Happisburgh remained strong: Pilgrim received two more petitions and, finally, he relented. In May 1846, he ordered the exhumation of the bodies of Jonathan Balls and Ann Elizabeth Pestle for the purposes of an conducting an inquest.
The inquest began at Hill House (see above) on 11 May 1846 and it was immediately revealed that both parties had died as a result of arsenic poisoning. In fact, according to one surgeon, there was enough arsenic in their stomachs to poison the whole parish, let alone a man and a child. Ann Pestle, Balls' daughter and Ann Elizabeth's mother, testified that she had no idea where the arsenic might have come from and had no reason to suspect that her father would kill her own child. In fact, he had shown kindness to her daughter and had even helped out with feeding her.
The inquest was adjourned pending a further investigation. But, on this next meeting, Balls' son-in-law stated that his wife remembered buying arsenic for her father when she was a teenager. Another woman, Phoebe Ann Neave, told the court that Balls had asked her to write a letter to a local druggist requesting a large quantity of arsenic. Neave was reluctant to help him because she knew that people used arsenic for "bad purposes." But Balls tried to pacify Neave: he said that he wanted the poison to kill rats and that she need not be "afraid" as he would not use it for any "bad purpose."
It was then revealed that over the last fifteen years, there had been even more "sudden" and "unusual" deaths in the Balls family. This prompted the coroner to make further enquiries and exhumations. Over the next few weeks, he investigated the following family deaths:
The examinations confirmed that Maria Lacey and Maria Green had died as a result of arsenic poisoning. As for the three other bodies, the verdict was left open because the surgeons could not find a definite cause of death. It may well have been arsenical poisoning but the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, making it impossible to say for certain.
On the question of motive, I'll leave you with this summary from The Globe:
During the last fifteen or twenty years , he (Jonathan Balls) was principally dependent on his married daughters for subsistence and the supposition is that he poisoned his grandchildren in order that their parents might be better able to support him. That he committed suicide, fearing his crime would be detected, there can be no doubt, for after having administered arsenic to the infant of Pestle (his daughter), and finding the mother was going to have it examined, he became greatly excited, observing his death was near at hand, although he was in a better state of health than usual. Six hours afterwards, he was a corpse.
The Lancet, 26 May 1846.
The Globe, 12 June 1846.
I wrote a guest post for the wonderful Mad, Bad and Desperate blog (http://criminalunacy.blogspot.co.uk) which I am reposting here. Alternatively, check out the original here.
Proving insanity in the Victorian courtroom was a notoriously tricky business and no case demonstrates this better than that of Christiana Edmunds, the infamous Chocolate Cream Killer.
Christiana was 43 when she stood in the dock of the Old Bailey in January 1872, charged with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder by poisoning.
In court, the prosecution alleged that Christiana was a cold-blooded killer, driven to commit the mass poisoning of Brighton over the summer of 1871 because she had been rejected by the man she loved. The man in question was Dr Charles Beard, a local doctor, and his wife, Emily, was Christiana's first victim. In fact, Christiana poisoned Emily on two occasions and, fortunately, she survived both of these attempts.
The prosecution also alleged that Christiana's weapon of choice - poisoned chocolate creams - was strong evidence of her sound mind and sinister intent. Through painstaking investigation, the police pieced together her highly-planned and skilful method of obtaining poison: she had purchased chocolate creams from a local confectioner called John Maynard and used a false name and address to purchase strychnine from the local chemist, Isaac Garrett. After she had adulterated the chocolate creams at home, she paid young boys to return the creams to Maynard's shop (citing poor quality as the reason for return) or simply dispersed them across Brighton by leaving small bags in shops she frequented.
The ingenuity of her poisoning spree made the task of defending Christiana enormous and the man hired to do this job was John Humffreys Parry, a well-known and well-respected serjeant-at-law. Despite working on some of the era's most sensational cases, including that of Marie Manning, Parry openly admitted in court that he had never encountered a case like Christiana's and was, quite frankly, baffled by her motive:
In my experience at the bar - which is now not a short experience - I never remember any case similar to this. In my reading of the criminal annals, both of this country and others, I never remember a case similar to this, and I frankly own - I am not ashamed of it - that I feel completely at a loss in my own mind how to place this case by way of argument before you.
But, after meeting with Christiana as she awaited trial in Newgate, Parry became convinced of her insanity and, a dig around her family history, gave him the evidence he needed.
Born in 1828, Christiana was the eldest child of the locally-celebrated architect, William Edmunds. She grew up in relative wealth and luxury and was privately educated in Ramsgate. In March 1847, however, her died in a lunatic asylum in London. The cause of death was General Paralysis of the Insane, an illness that we now know as tertiary syphilis but, for the Victorians, was just another form of insanity. In addition, one of Christiana's sisters, Louisa, tried to kill herself by jumping from a window and, even more tragically, Christiana's youngest brother, Arthur, died of epilepsy in a lunatic asylum in Surrey. This, according to Parry, provided irrefutable evidence of the taint of madness in Christiana's family.
To successfully plead insanity, however, Parry would need to satisfy the McNaughtan Rules, the most commonly-employed test for insanity in the Victorian courtroom. In essence, these rules stated that the "jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is to be presumed sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction." In other words, if Parry was to convince the jury of Christiana's insanity, he would need to prove what had happened to her family.
In court, Parry called a number of witnesses to testify to the taint of madness in the Edmunds family, including the current superintendent of Southall Park, one of two asylums which treated her late father. The superintendent of Reigate Asylum was also present to verify the death of her brother, Arthur.
Parry also arranged for some medical experts to interview Christiana and to medically assess her state of mind. These men were some of the leading figures in Victorian psychiatry and included William Wood, a physician at St Luke's hospital in London, Henry Maudsley, psychiatrist and professor of medical jurisprudence, and Charles Lockhart Robertson, former superintendent of the Sussex County Asylum. These men interviewed Christiana on 7 January 1872, just a few weeks before her trial, and were immediately struck by the "absolute indifference" to her position. William Wood, for example, could not make her understand the severity of the charges laid before her and quickly came to the conclusion that Christiana could not distinguish between right and wrong. Similarly, Henry Maudsley found her lacking in any "moral feeling" and regarded her as the one of those people on the "border-land between crime and insanity."
With all men in agreement that Christiana was insane as a result of her family history, Parry was confident that he could satisfy the McNaughtan Rules. In court, however, Charles Lockhart Robertson made a monumental mistake when questioned by the prosecutor, William Ballantine:
William Ballantine: Had she any moral sense?
Charles Lockhart Robertson: To a certain degree she had.
WB: Do you mean that if she administered poison to another with intent to kill she would not know she was doing wrong?
CLR: I believe that she would know that she was doing wrong if she committed an act.
By admitting that Christiana knew the difference between right and wrong, Robertson threatened to destroy Parry's defence. To make matters worse, the prosecution summed up in stating that insanity was the preferred defence of the wealthier classes who would rather spend time in an asylum than in prison. Given Christiana’s conduct while on remand, which included constant complaints about her poor conditions, it was indeed plausible that she might claim insanity to avoid further time in prison.
It took a little over an hour for the jury to find Christiana Edmunds guilty of all counts. She appeared calm and unmoved as she was sentenced to death. Parry's defence had failed: the jury believed that Christiana knew the difference between right and wrong, despite the prevalence of insanity in her family.
Find out what happened next in my new book, The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer: The Poisonous Passion of Christiana Edmunds, on sale now.
(All images courtesy of Wellcome Library).
I recently read a fabulous article by Nell Darby about the dangers of glorifying history's criminals (check it out here) and it really got me thinking about my book on Christiana Edmunds. By writing about her, am I glorifying her crimes? Am I trivialising the horrible things she did? It's an important and often over-looked question, I think.
When I was first approached to write this book, it was clear that the publishers were looking for something sensational. They wanted a book that would capture the public's imagination, so I duly set about scouring the newspapers of the 19th century in search of shocking, though less well-known, crimes. I think I succeeded in my aim but, in writing a book that is deliberately sensational, I can't help but wonder if I am guilty of feeding the public's obsession with the "celebrity" criminal. But, even if I am, is that such a bad thing?
Before I answer that, let's get something clear from the beginning, though I hope it goes without saying. It has never been my intention to glorify Christiana's poisoning spree or downplay its effects on her victims. And I'm sure that many other writers and historians out there don't harbour this intention, either. So I wonder if this issue is symptomatic of a wider historical problem? That is, of our connection to people from the past. It's easy to look at people like Christiana, like Dr Beard, like Sidney Barker as names on a page and forget that they were real people with real problems, real relationships and with real lives. Perhaps we view them in such simplistic terms because we can't relate to them; we can't connect on that human level which is so necessary in creating a sense of meaning and attachment. In this understanding, it is easy for people to pick and select the figures they read or write about because, intentionally or unintentionally, they are not connected to these criminals or victims and their personal histories.
If this is the case, then I would suggest that knowledge really is power. Instead of glorifying criminals, we should think about new books and new projects as bringing to life these stories of the past. But I'm not saying that any old story or any old viewpoint will do. It needs to be done in a way and that is what I have tried so hard to do in my book on Christiana. It was so easy for me to get sucked in by the newspaper reports of the Chocolate Cream Killer, of the cold-hearted spinster and the slighted lover. And for a while, I guess, I fell for it all. But once I started to think critically about Christiana, everything changed. I realised that her crimes represent just one year of her life. Again, not wanting to trivialise what she did, I was keen to know more about the woman, not the murderess. Of course, this poses a whole new set of problems. As Nell rightly points out, the vast majority of crimes are rather "grubby affairs" which take place against the fairly hum-drum backdrop of everyday life. And researching the everyday in the 19th century isn't exactly easy. But I was determined to put Christiana into some sort of meaningful context, to try and understand who she really was and portray this to the reader, without being overly sympathetic towards her or downplaying the plight of her victims. I guess it's a question of balance and I sincerely hope that I've got the balance right.
In May 1871, the Victorian public was gripped by the trial of Frederick William Park and Ernest Boulton, AKA Fanny and Stella, the two most notorious cross-dressers of the 19th century. They were tried at the Old Bailey for the crime of "conspiracy to commit felonious crimes", or, in other words, for dressing like women and flouting social norms.
But what do these two men (or ladies) have in common with Christiana Edmunds, I hear you ask? Well, the link is a man called John Humffreys Parry, one of the most talented and prolific lawyers of the mid 19th century. Parry defended Ernest Boulton at his trial and, one year later, was retained by the family of Christiana Edmunds, the Chocolate Cream Killer.
Getting back to Fanny and Stella, the case was sensational in nature but, legally speaking, there wasn't really a case against them. On the night of their arrest, they had been out to Strand Theatre, dressed as women, with a few friends. They didn't realise that they were under the watch of a police constable and detective who arrested them as they were leaving the theatre. The charge was conspiring to commit a felony and they were remanded in Newgate Prison pending a court appearance. Here, they were forced to undergo a physical exam (which was completely illegal) to find evidence of sodomy but doctors found nothing.
When they appeared at Bow Street Magistrates' Court, they were still dressed as women. In the dock, Stella was wearing a "cherry-coloured silk evening dress trimmed with white lace, bracelets on bare arms, a wig, and plaited chignon." You can imagine the public's reaction...
To modern eyes, the proceedings were fairly shambolic. Hordes of personal correspondence were brought in (none of which was indecent) and trunks of ladies' dresses were placed on display. Public moralists were outraged and requested that all evidence be taken in secret. But their pleas were ignored and Victorian society revelled in such sensational and scandalous tales.
Fanny and Stella were committed to trial and not given bail but their charge was changed to "conspiring to commit felonious crimes" and "outraging public decency by going about dressed as women." Far less serious than committing a felony.
Their trial began on 9 May 1871. Understandably, much of the prosecution's focus lay on Fanny and Stella's "unusual" lifestyle and had no real basis in law. Let's face it, there was no evidence of sodomy and wearing women's clothes appeared to have no basis in English law. As such, the jury took only 53 minutes to find Fanny and Stella not guilty of their charges. On hearing the news, Stella fainted in the dock.
The trial had no lasting impact on Fanny and Stella. Stella, for example, continued to act as a female impersonator in theatres across the country before emigrating to the USA. (He died there in 1904). But they had certainly gripped the public's imagination. Here's a cheeky little Victorian limerick which commemorates their notoriety (undated):
There was an old person of Sark
Who buggered a pig in the dark;
The swine in surprise
Murmured: ‘God blast your eyes
Do you take me for Boulton or Park?’
As for Mr Parry, he might have thought he'd seen it all. But nothing could prepare him for meeting Christiana Edmunds in January 1872. I'll save his thoughts on the infamous Chocolate Cream Killer for another day....
(These fabulous images of Fanny and Stella are courtesy of History Extra, check them out here.)
He looks the model of respectability but don’t be fooled by the photo above. John Selby Watson is one of the most notorious murderers of the 19th century and, for good reason. On October 8 1871, Watson killed his wife, Anne, by beating her with the butt of his pistol.But what prompted this sudden violent outburst? Watson had certainly never engaged in such behaviour before. Born in 1804, Watson was a classically-trained scholar (he studied at Trinity College in Dublin and at Oxford) and was ordained into the priesthood in 1840. His first parish was in a sleepy village in Somerset.
Outside of the Church, Watson was a prolific writer: he translated ancient texts, wrote biographies, wrote a book on the reasoning power of animals and even a history of the papacy. But the Church didn’t pay too well and nor did his books. So, in 1844, he accepted a position as the headmaster of Stockwell Grammar School in London. The job not only boosted his social standing but also greatly improved his financial situation. Watson clearly enjoyed his work at the school but encountered some problems with his students. To put it bluntly, they just weren’t as academic as Watson nor did they share his enthusiasm for history and classics. Over time, student numbers declined and, in September 1870, Watson was dismissed.
What a blow this must have been. Now in his sixties and with a wife to provide for, the situation looked incredibly bleak. What happened on that fateful day is recorded by the couple’s only servant, Eleanor Pyne:
“On Sunday morning, 8th October, my master and mistress went out together rather earlier than the usual church time—they came back rather later than usual—I should think it was about 1.45 o’clock—that was their dinner hour at that time—I had prepared dinner in the dining-room on the ground floor; that is the room on the right, as you come into the house—Mrs. Watson took off her bonnet and things, and they sat down to dinner—I attended to them—they had no wine for dinner, they had some after dinner—I am not certain what wine it was—after dinner they went up stairs into the library; the wine was up there, and they had some dessert—I do not remember seeing them again—it was between 2 and 3 o’clock when I left them in the library—up to that time I had not noticed anything in their manner or demeanour to attract my attention—they usually lived on very friendly terms, they were generally very quiet—I went out that afternoon, about 4 o’clock—I let myself out—before I went out I had prepared the tea in the dining-room—5.45 was their usual time for taking tea—when I returned, at 9 o’clock, I knocked at the door, and Mr. Watson let me in, and he said my mistress had gone out of town and would not be home till to-morrow.”
But Anne would not be coming home. She was already dead, her body hidden in an upstairs bedroom. Two days later, Eleanor found Watson, barely conscious, in his bed upstairs. It transpired that he had taken cyanide and left a note, addressed to his doctor, which said “For the servant, Ellen Pyne, exclusive of her wages. Let no suspicion fall on the servant, whom I believe to be a good girl.” Enclosed was a £5 note and instructions to publish his remaining literary works. The gruesome discovery of Anne’s body was made shortly after.
Once Eleanor had contacted the police, word of the murder spread quickly and Watson became the centre of press interest and national gossip. At his trial at the Old Bailey in January 1872, he was found guilty of murdering his wife but the jury recommended mercy. His death sentence was thus commuted to penal servitude for life.
Watson died in prison on the Isle of Wight after falling out of his hammock on July 6 1884.
You can read the full (and gory) details of the murder trial here:
Ok, so it’s not Christiana-related but here’s another murder case from Victorian Brighton, a perfect read for Halloween…
Early in the evening of March 14 1844, John Lawrence was arrested on a charge of shoplifting and taken to the police station, a series of rooms on the ground floor of the Brighton Town Hall. Lawrence had been spotted trying to steal a roll of carpet from a shop in St James’s Street but was quickly apprehended by a local bobby by the name of Harnden.
While waiting on the arrival of a witness, Lawrence was placed in a room occupied by a number of men including Henry Solomon, the Chief Constable of the Brighton Police Force. (pictured below) Solomon was a well-liked and highly-respected figure in Brighton. He also had the honour of being the town’s first Chief Constable, a post he had held for the past six years. When Solomon noticed Lawrence in the room, he asked him how long he had been in Brighton. Lawrence claimed it was two days but Solomon suspected that it was much longer. Caught out, Lawrence became agitated and said to Solomon: “I’m tired of my life. Give me a knife that I may make away with myself.” According to a witness, Solomon ignored this obvious provocation and instead tried to soothe Lawrence by urging him to relax while they waited on the arrival of the witness. Solomon then turned away and began chatting to some of the other men in the room.
Lawrence (pictured below) now seized his moment. He rose from his chair, reached out to the fireplace behind him and grabbed the poker. Before anyone had noticed, he had landed a blow on Solomon’s head that was so strong he immediately fell to the floor. Covered in blood and “completely incapable of helping himself,” Solomon was attended to by those around him while Lawrence shouted “I know I have done it! I hope I have killed him, I shall be hanged!” Poor Solomon was then transported home. He lingered through the night but his wound was so severe that he died the following morning. He was interred on the following Friday afternoon in Brighton’s Jewish Burial Ground and the town’s public raised a fund to support his wife and nine children – with £50 donated by Queen Victoria herself.
Meanwhile, Lawrence was found guilty of his murder and sentenced to death. At trial, Lawrence claimed to harbour no enmity towards Solomon. It was, he explained, his wish to die and escape his miserable life. His wish was granted on 6 April when he was executed in front of a large crowd at Horsham, north of Brighton. He was only 24 years old – we can only wonder what prompted such unprovoked violence that night.