Date Of Execution: 2 May 1837
Execution Place: Old Bailey
Murder of HANNAH BROWN
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Executed at Newgate, 2nd of May, 1837, for murdering and mutilating a Woman
IN the year 1836 some dwellings, called the Canterbury Villas, situated in Edgware Road, at a distance of about a quarter of a mile from the spot at which the Regent's Canal emerges from under the pathway, were in progress of completion. On the 28th of December a man named Bond, a bricklayer, engaged upon the buildings, visited his place of work. About two o'clock in the afternoon he was proceeding in the direction towards Kilburn when his attention was attracted by a package enveloped in a coarse cloth or sack, which appeared to have been carefully placed behind a paving-stone which rested there, for the purpose of concealment. He removed the stone in order to obtain a more distinct view of the package, and was horrified to observe a pool of frozen blood. He called the superintendent of the works and another person to the place, and they found that the package consisted of a portion of the remains of a human body. The trunk only was there, the head and legs having been removed. It proved to be the body of a female, apparently about fifty years of age. The head had been severed from the trunk in an awkward manner, the bone of the neck having been partly sawn through and partly broken off; and the legs had been removed in a similar irregular way.
An inquest was held on the body on Saturday, the 31st of December, at the White Lion Inn, Edgware Road, when the jury returned a verdict of "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown."
Public excitement was soon afterwards raised to the very highest pitch by a notification being given of the finding of a human head in a place called the "Ben Jonson Lock" of the Regent's Canal, which runs through Stepney Fields. The exhumation of the body now took place, when the necessary comparison was made, and Mr Girdwood, surgeon of the district, at once declared that the head and the trunk were portions of the same frame.
Although some public satisfaction was afforded by this most singular event, still no clue whatever appeared to have yet been found to conduct the police to the murderer. The head was accordingly placed in spirits, and was preserved at Mr Girdwood's, where it remained open to the inspection of all persons who it was supposed would be able to afford any information upon the subject. The mystery which surrounded the case, however, seemed to become greater every day. The inquiries of the police for the remainder of the body were unsuccessful until the 2nd of February. On that day James Page, a labourer, was employed in cutting osiers in a bed belonging to Mr Tenpenny, in the neighbourhood of Cold Harbour Lane, Camberwell, when, as he stepped over a drain or ditch, he perceived a large bundle lying in it, covered with a piece of sacking, and partly immersed in the water. His curiosity prompted him to raise it, and he saw what appeared to be the toes of a human foot protruding from it. He became alarmed, and called for his fellow-workman, who was only a short distance off. When they opened the package they found it to contain two human legs. These, like the head, were transmitted to Mr Girdwood for examination, and proved to be portions of the frame which had been discovered in the Edgware Road.
On the 20th of March, Mr Gay, a broker, who resided in Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, applied to Mr Thornton, the churchwarden of the parish of Paddington, for permission to inspect such of the remains of the deceased woman as had been preserved above ground. He founded his application upon the fact of the sudden disappearance of his sister, whose name was Hannah Brown, and who had quitted her home on the afternoon preceding Christmas Day and had not since been seen or heard of. When Mr Gay saw the head, he at once declared his belief that it was that of his unfortunate relation. From the inquiries of the police it was elicited that the unfortunate woman had received with favour the advances of a man named James Greenacre, to whom she was about to be married; and that on Christmas Eve she had quitted her lodgings in Union Street, Middlesex Hospital, in order to accompany her intended husband to his house, in Carpenter's Buildings, Camberwell, preparatory to their union on the ensuing Monday. Greenacre was the person in whose company she had been last seen; and to him, therefore, the authorities naturally turned for information as to the manner in which they had parted, if they had parted at all, before her death. A warrant was granted by the magistrates of Marylebone police office for the apprehension of this man; and after considerable difficulty he was at length taken into custody, on the 24th of March, 1837, at his lodgings at St Alban's Place, Kennington Road, together with a woman named Sarah Gale, with whom he cohabited, and her child.
The apprehension of Greenacre and Gale took place under circumstances which tended to confirm the suspicions of their guilt of murder, and to give conclusive evidence of their perfect cognisance of the fact of the death of the deceased. lnspector Feltham was the person by whom this capture was effected; and he took the prisoners into custody at a small house, No. 1 St Alban's Place, Kennington Road. Accompanied by a police constable of the L division, he proceeded to that house and found them in bed together. When he entered the room he informed them of the object of his visit. Greenacre at first denied all knowledge of any such person as Hannah Brown; but subsequently, when questioned further, he admitted that he had been going to be married to her, although he did not then know what had become of her. The prisoners having dressed themselves, Greenacre declared that it was lucky the officer had come that night, as they were to sail the next day for America -- a fact which appeared to be true, from the appearance of a number of boxes which stood in the apartment ready packed and corded for travelling. A minute examination of the contents of the trunks afforded highly important evidence. Many articles were found in them which were known to have belonged to Hannah Brown; but besides these, some remnants of an old cotton dress were discovered, exactly corresponding in pattern and condition with the pieces in which the body had been wrapped when first discovered in Edgware Road.
On the 10th of April, 1837, the two prisoners were placed at the bar of the Central Criminal Court, and arraigned upon the indictment found against them. Greenacre was charged, as the principal, with the wilful murder of the deceased, and Gale was indicted for being an accessory after the fact, in consorting, aiding and assisting her fellow prisoner.
Lord Chief Justice Tindal, Mr Justice Coleridge and Mr Justice Coltman were the judges, and the court was crowded in every corner.
The Lord Chief Justice began to sum up at a quarter past six o'clock on the second day of the trial, and after an absence of a quarter of an hour the jury returned a verdict of guilty against both prisoners. Greenacre was sentenced to death, and the woman was ordered to be transported for the rest of her natural life. Greenacre was hanged on the 2nd of May, 1837.