Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Confused Confessions of the Demented Delinquents

                 There followed three written statements from the prisoners. Bishop wrote that he was a carrier, who had supplied bodies to teaching hospitals, 
I declare that I never sold any body but what had died a natural death.” 
He had bought the cap from Mrs Dodswell, a clothes-dealer from Hoxton Old Town, for his own son, Frederick, and had sewn a green lining into the peak himself. He swore he knew nothing about the other clothing that had been dug up from his garden and asked that the jury disregard all the talk about ‘wearing apparel’ as he nothing to do with it, finishing with, 
May and Williams know nothing as to how I became possessed of the body.” 
Mrs Dodswell was called and confirmed that she had sold a cap to Mrs Bishop; she also mentioned that Bishop’s daughter had been her servant, twelve months before.

Williams’s statement was a masterpiece of evasion – he wrote (or got somebody to do that for him), that he was a bricklayer and a glassblower, and he hadn’t sold bodies before, and he was only helping Bishop out, and he didn’t know what was going on, and it weren’t me guv’nor, and gorblimey I’m being fixed up, wot wiv me bein’ innocent an’ all, gertcha, and,
“I shall, therefore, leave my case entirely to the intelligence and discrimination of the Jury, and the learned and merciful Judge,
… that final part, one suspects, was added to the statement by Williams’s counsel.

May wrote that he was a happily married family man of moderate education who had been apprenticed as a butcher. For the past six years he had been employed in the procurement of anatomical specimens for the medical establishments throughout the metropolis, together with working with horses, and had accidentally met Bishop in the Fortune of War public house, a place frequented by gentlemen employed in his given profession, where Bishop had consulted him on a professional matter, vis-à-vis the procurement and disposal of ‘subjects’ and what remuneration might be the reasonable recompense for such a service. Undoubtedly, he was well accustomed to the commerce in the dearly departed but it were only stiffs guv an’ none ov yer livin’ coves, lor’ luv a duck, wot wiv me bein’ a right diamond an’ pukka an’ all, leave it ahht, me ole china and
“…I shall, therefore, leave my fate entirely to the intelligence and discernment of the Jury, and the learned Judge.
Which, if nothing else, proves that lazy lawyers were not above a little copy-pasta even back then, when the judges and learned friends would obviously swayed by stock phrases that they had most certainly had not heard before on a daily basis. Or maybe, just maybe, the defence counsel had a spark of humanity left in their adamantine, avaricious, legal hearts and were deliberately setting their scumbag clients up to fail. It’s a tough call to make, I know – lawyers or murderous grave robbers, but on this occasion at least, I will side with the lawyers. Not least because of the character witnesses that were called next. Rosina Carpenter, a single lady, swore in court that Mr May had been in her company throughout the night of November 4th  - she was sure it was the 4th – and she was sure, too, that he had never left her. Sure, she was very sure. And she was sure he didn’t have any human teeth in his pocket. Really sure about that one.

Mary Ann Horne spoke next for May. She was a single lady, and the happily married family man Mr May had been entertained by her on November 4th, and had been with her until eight o’clock on Saturday morning, and he couldn’t give her any money just then but he would have some for her later, because he was a fine, dependable fellow, and she knew that because May was with her more than anyone else, and sure, she had gentlemen callers but not nearly so many as James May. Oh yes, and her landlady owned a jackdaw.
Charlotte Berry was a single lady (do you spot a pattern here?), who had a room in the same building as Horne, and spoke next for May. She had, accidentally, pinched her landlady’s jackdaw behind the door and it had flown into Horne’s room and its blood must have gotten onto May’s trousers, because there was trousers and blood and stuff, and that explains that, right? Sure?

The final witness called by the defence was Dr Edward William Tuson. He was not a single lady. Here is his testimony, in full, to the Old Bailey,
“I am a surgeon, and am subpoenaed on behalf of the prisoners. I know them by seeing them; I believe I have seen Bishop once or twice, but I do not know what I am to prove.”
Excellent bit of lawyering there, Messrs. Curwood and Barry. You were either so incompetent that you should have been struck off the day before Tuesday, or so brilliant that you should have been showered with apes, ivory and peacocks. The Chief Justice then recapitulated the evidence that had been presented to the jury and directed them on certain legal niceties before they retired, at eight o’clock in the evening, to consider their verdict. The prisoners were taken from the courtroom, to be replaced with conjectures and speculations, and just thirty minutes later the jury came back in. There was a deathly silence in the room and the windows were opened wide, so that those outside might hear the verdict. Bishop, Williams and May were re-introduced to the bar, the names of the jurors were called over and they were asked if they had reached a verdict, to which they replied in the affirmative. All three had been found guilty of murder. 

The response outside was deafening, with much clapping and cheering and the windows had to be closed again, so that the Recorder of the court could be heard as he passed sentence. The Judge gave a short speech, thanking the jury for doing their duty, and then tuned to the bar. John Bishop, Thomas Williams alias Head, and James May had been found guilty of murder and were to be taken to the place of execution on the following Monday, there to be hanged by the neck until dead. He began to say, ‘… and may God have mercy on your souls’ when he was interrupted by Mr Justice Littledale, who whispered a reminder to him, whereupon he added that their bodies would then be given over to the anatomists, who would publicly dissect their bodies. The three men stood in silence for a moment, when May suddenly pointed at Bishop and said loudly, 
I am a murdered man, gentlemen, and that man knows it.” 
This sparked Williams into action, who started by saying, “We are all murdered men,” and then threatened several of the witnesses, promising them that they would be prepaid for their lies within three months. Bishop said nothing. They were taken down and the court cleared. The Duke of Sussex said, in effect, ‘It makes you proud to be an Englishman,” and the judicicals, much heartened by his Highness’s kind words, agreed.

Tomorrow - the executions

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