British Executions

William Palmer


Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 14 Jun 1856

Crime Location:

Execution Place:

Method: unknown

Executioner: unknown


Born in 1824, Palmer took to crime at an early age. By the time he was seventeen had been dismissed from one apprenticeship for embezzlement and fled from another after having been discovered running his own abortion service. He was however an intelligent man and in 1846 he qualified as a doctor from St Bartholomew's Hospital. He settled down to working in a modest practice in Rugeley, Staffordshire, and married. His domestic life was not quite as respectable as it appeared and one of the servant girls becamed pregnant by him and had his child. His other main interest was gambling on the horses.

He was not a lucky gambler and was constantly in debt. In order to alleviated the situation a bit he murdered his mother-in-law, so that her fortune would pass on to his wife. This bought him a little time but he soon fell back into debt. His love of horses was so great that he even started up his own stables.

Having realised an effective way of obtaining money he methodically murdered members of his family including his wife who had been insured for £13,000, four of his legitimate children, several of his illegitimate offspring, his brother, an uncle and several of his more persistent creditors.

In November 1855 he visited Shrewsbury Races with his friend John Parsons Cook, another gambler, but one who had much more success than Palmer. At the race meeting, Palmer as usual lost all his bets while Cook won a considerable amount of money. After the meeting the meeting they all went to the Talbot Arms Hotel, Rugeley, to celebrate Cook's success. At the party Cook became ill and Palmer offered to collect the man's winnings. Once he had got his hands on the money Palmer used it to pay off his own debts.

Cook was treated by Palmer during his illness and, on 21st November, he died. John Cook's step-father was not willing to accept that a healthy man could become ill and die so suddenly that he demanded a post-mortem. An examination showed that the man had been poisoned with antimony and Palmer was immeiately arrested.

There was a considerable amount of bad feeling towards Palmer and so it was decided that in order to get a fair trial the case should be heard out of county. In May 1856 Palmer was tried at the Old Bailey. He was duly found guilty and was hanged outside Stafford Gaol on 14th June 1856 in front of a large crowd. He was suspected of being responsible for fourteen murders.