Sunday, 10 December 2006

François Benjamin Courvoisier

François Courvoisier was a Swiss national who was executed on 6th of July, 1840, for murdering his employer, Lord William Russell, while he slept in his house in Norfolk Street, Park Lane, in the West End of London.

Lord William Russell was seventy three, and a member of the family of the Dukes of Bedford. His nephew was the politican, Lord John Russell, who at the time was Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs and later became prime minister. Lord William was a widower and the father of seven children.

He lived alone with a household of servants, a housemaid, Sarah Mancer, a cook, Mary Hannell, his valet, Francois Benjamin Courvoisier, and a coachman and groom, all of whom lived in the house, except for the last two. The house was small, and consisted of only two rooms on a floor. On the basement storey were the kitchen and the usual offices, and a room used by Courvoisier as a pantry. On the ground floor were two parlours, used as dining-rooms; on the first floor were the drawing-room and library; on the second floor were Lord William's bedroom and dressing-room and above was where the servants slept. His lordship was a member of Brooks's Club, in St James's Street, and usually spent most of the day there; but he generally dined at home, read for a while, and went to bed at about midnight.

The valet had been employed for only only five weeks; he'd told his fellow-servants that he didn't like his master, describing him as testy and dissatisfied, and said if he only had the money, he'd go back to Switzerland.

On the 5th of May 1840, Lord William got up at nine o'clock, breakfasted and went to his club. But before he left, he summoned Courvoisier and gave him several messages to deliver, including an instruction to his coachman to prepare the carriage and be ready to take him home from his club at five o'clock. Afterwards, Courvoisier said he was afraid he would forget some of his errands; and he did, in fact, omit the instruction to the coachman. At half-past five his lordship returned home in a cab, and was irritated about the mistake, but he doesn't appear to have been so angry as to create feelings of hatred. Dinner was served at about seven o clock followed by coffee and at about nine, Lord William retired to his library.

At this time only Courvoisier, Sarah Mancer and Mary Hannell were in the house. Hannell had been out, but when she came back, Courvoisier let her in, locking and chaining the street door behind her. Supper was prepared in the kitchen at about ten, and Courvoisier brought in some beer: but he left the house and came back in via the area, and the gate and kitchen door were fastened by Hannell afterwards. So both ways into the house from the street were closed and the only entrance from the back, through the basement, was through the pantry.

At about half-past ten the women went to bed leaving Courvoisier to attend to his master, and it was not until half-past midnight that his lordship rang the bell for help in getting ready for bed.

On the following morning, at about half-past six, Sarah Mancer, the housemaid, went downstairs, finding everyhing in such a mess she thought burglars must have been in the house during the night. Furniture was strewn about, drawers and boxes open, and there was a bundle lying on the ground, as if it had been packed up ready to be taken away. The street door had been unfastened, and was on the latch.

She went to tell the cook what she'd seen; the cook told her to tell the valet.

When she'd shown him the mess downstairs, she suggested they check on their master and they went together to his bedroom. As soon as they got in there, Courvoisier went to the window to open the shutters, but Mancer went to the bedside, and saw the pillow saturated with blood, and his lordship lying in bed, dead, with his throat cut.

The police made a minute examination of the house, and concluded that the murder had been carried out by someone in the house, who had then faked a robbery. The parcel contained many articles of his lordship's property. A cloth cloak, which had been hanging up in the hall, was found rolled up, and inside it were Lord William's gold operaglass, his gold toothpick, a silver sugar-dredger, a pair of spectacles, a caddy-spoon, and a thimble belonging to the cook. The police thought the smaller items were the sort of thing a thief would have put into his pocket, rather than packing them up. Although the drawers of the sideboard in the parlour and of the writingdesk in the drawing-room were pulled open, nothing had been taken

The state of his lordship's bedroom tended to confirm the suspicions of the police, and to supply a motive. His lordship owned a case containing ivory rouleau boxes, which were usually used to hold gold coins. The boxes held about five hundred sovereigns, and although Courvoisier was entrusted with the keys of his master's drawers and trunks, he was never allowed to go to this case. The police found that the case had been opened and searched, fruitlessly, for money. A jewellery box and a note-case had also been opened, and several articles of small value taken, including a ten-pound note, which his lordship was known to have had. A purse which contained gold had also disappeared.

Courvoisier immediately came under suspicion, and his things were searched, but nothing was discovered. On Friday, the 8th of May, a police officer examined the floor, the skirting-board and the sink, and behind the skirting-board he found five gold rings which had belonged to Lord William, as well as five pieces of gold coin and a piece of wax. Behind another part of the skirting-board was found a Waterloo medal, which was known to have been in the possession of his lordship, plus the ten-pound note. This was felt to be particularly significant, because if an ordinary thief had taken it from the note-case, he would certainly have taken it with him. The discovery of it hidden in the pantry was taken as almost conclusive evidence of the valet's guilt. A further search turned up his lordship's keyring; on the evening of the next day, a locket was taken from Courvoisier's pocket which contained a lock of the hair of Lord William Russell's dead wife. He'd noticed this was missing a short time before his death.

At this point, the police took Courvoisier into custody. Subseqently other items were found; a chased gold key and on Wednesday, the 13th, in part of the sink in the pantry, the watch which Lord William had placed by his bed on the night of the murder.

An experienced attorney, Mr Flower, was engaged to conduct his defence and a big collection was raised from the foreign servants in London to pay for it. The trial began on Thursday, the 18th of June at the Central Criminal Court.

The court was then crowded with members of the aristocracy and several ambassadors and diplomats. Even the prisoners' dock was filled with seating.

The prisoner was of course, a foreign national, but he chose to be tried by a British jury and pleaded not guilty.

The evidence was presented and the first day's proceedings had closed when new testimony came to light, which gave conclusive proof of Courvoisier's guilt.

In the investigation after the murder, some articles of plate were found to have been removed from the house, but, after the careful examination which had taken place, there was reason to believe that this had happened earlier, and not after the murder. The police hadn't been able to find this stolen property and although a reward was offered it was not until the evening of the first day of the trial that anyone came forward.

The prosecution learned that it was in the possession of Madame Piolaine, the keeper of a French hotel in Leicester Place, Leicester Square. This was conveyed to the prisoner's attorney; and when Courvoisier was told, he at once admitted his guilt.

The defence coninued, much hampered by this admission. It had originally been intended to attempt to implicate the female servants, but this, of course, had to be abandoned. But the defence lawyers did accuse the police of improper conduct and of fabricating evidence. The evidence, Courvoisier's attorney said, was of suspicion only.

Despite this, the verdict, when it came, was guilty, and Courvoisier was sentenced to death.

The next day, he made a full confession, saying: "His lordship was very cross with me and told me I must quit his service. As I was coming upstairs from the kitchen I thought it was all up with me; my character was gone, and I thought it was the only way I could cover my faults by murdering him. This was the first moment of any idea of the sort entering my head. I went into the dining-room and took a knife from the sideboard. I do not remember whether it was a carving-knife or not. I then went upstairs, I opened his bedroom door and heard him snoring in his sleep; there was a rushlight in his room burning at this time. I went near the bed by the side of the window, and then I murdered him. He just moved his arm a little; he never spoke a word."

The execution was carried out at Newgate, on the 6th of July, 1840.

(Coming next: the execution.)

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Maria Manning

Maria de Roux was born in 1821 in Switzerland. She moved to England and found work as a lady's maid. In 1846, on a trip to the French port of Boulogne with her employer, she met Patrick O'Connor, a 50 year old Irishman, who was a customs officer in Wapping, in the London docks, and a heavy drinker. Maria was also seeing Frederick George Manning, who worked as a guard on the Great Western Railway. Both men proposed, and she chose Manning, who was nearer her own age: the couple married in St James' Church, Piccadilly, in May 1847. They set up home in Miniver Place, in Bermondsey in the East End.

Maria was still in contact with O'Connor and was probably having an affair with him, with the apparent acquiescence of Frederick. O'Connor even dined with them occasionally.

On the 8th of August 1849, having bought some quicklime and a shovel, the Mannings invited Mr. O'Connor to dinner. He came with a friend. So Maria invited him again for the next day, telling him to come alone. When he arrived, she suggested he might want to wash his hands before dinner and as he stood at the sink to do so, she shot him in the head with a pistol.

The bullet wound failed to kill him, but Frederick finished him off by bashing his head with a crowbar. The two conspirators buried the body in a grave below the kitchen flagstones -- which they'd already dug -- covering it with plenty of quicklime.

The following day Maria went to O'Connor's lodgings and systematically went through his belongings, taking everything of value including his share certificates. She paid a further visit the following day to see if there was anything she had missed.

Two days later two of O'Connor's colleagues came to the Manning's house looking for him. Maria said he'd eaten with them on the 8th but denied having seen him since. Maria and Frederick were rattled and they decided to leave London immediately. Maria caught a train to Edinburgh. Frederick went to Jersey.

O'Connor's friends had, by this time, reported him missing to the police and expressed their suspicions about the Mannings. The police searched the house, lifted the flagstones, and found the body. Maria was tracked down to Edinburgh, where she had aroused suspicions by trying to sell some of O'Connors's shares. Frederick was arrested a week later in Jersey where he had been spotted by a man who had known him in London and who had read about the murder in the papers.

The trial took place at the Old Bailey 25th of October. Their respective lawyers tried to blame the other for the killing. It took the jury forty-five minutes to find them both guilty.

Maria screamed at the jury, "You have treated me like a wild beast of the forest." She continued to rave at the judge as he tried to pass sentence of death upon her.

As she waited for execution, Maria attempted suicide; she also wrote to Queen Victoria asking for pardon.

The executions took place on 13th of November 1849 at Horsemonger Lane Gaol. It's estimated that between thirty and fifty-thousand people attended.

'The Times' newspaper reported:
"At a quarter past eight Manning and his wife entered the (prison) chapel. The Sacrament was administered to them when the governor appeared and said that time pressed. Calcraft (the executioner) also came forward and the wretched pair were conducted to different parts of the chapel to be pinioned. The operation was performed on the male prisoner first and he submitted to it with perfect resignation. In the pinioning of Mrs. Manning a longer time was occupied. When the cords were applied to bind her arms her great natural strength forsook her for a moment, and she was nearly fainting, but a little brandy brought her round again, and she was pinioned without any resistance. She drew from her pocket a black silk handkerchief and requested that she might be blindfolded with it, a request that was acceded to. Having had a black lace veil fastened over her head, so as to completely conceal her features from the public gaze, she was conducted to the extremity of the chapel, where the fatal procession was at once formed and in a slow and solemn manner moved forwards towards the drop, the prison bell tolling."

"The procession passed along a succession of narrow passages, fenced in with ponderous gates, side rails and chevaux de frise of iron. In its course a singular coincidence happened. The Mannings walked over their own graves, as they had made their victim do over his. Mrs. Manning walked to her doom with a firm, unfaltering step. Being blindfolded she was led along by Mr. Harris, the surgeon. She wore a handsome black satin gown.""At last nine o'clock struck and shortly after the dreadful procession emerged from a small door in the inner side of a square piece of brickwork which rests on the east end of the prison roof. To reach this height a long and steep flight of stairs had to be climbed, and it only wonderful that Manning, in his weak and tottering state, was able to ascend so far. As he ascended to the steps leading to the drop his limbs tottered under him and he was scarcely able to move. When his wife approached the scaffold he turned round with his face towards the people, while Calcraft proceeded to draw over his head the white nightcap and adjust the fatal rope. The executioner then drew the nightcap over the female prisoner's head and all the necessary preparations now being completed the scaffold was cleared of all it occupants except the two wretched beings doomed to die. In an instant Calcraft withdrew the bolt, the drop fell, and the sentence of the law was fulfilled. Frederick died almost without a struggle while Maria writhed for some seconds. Their bodies were left to hang for the customary hour before they were taken down and in the evening buried in the precincts of gaol."

"Scarcely a hat or cap was raised when the drop fell and the bodies of the murderers had hardly ceased to oscillate with the momentum of their fall before the spectators were hurrying from the spot."

Charles Dickens, who was at the execution, wrote a letter to the Times expressing his revulsion:

"I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger Lane this morning"

"I believe that the a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the crowd collected at that execution this morning."

"When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgement, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world."

One spectator at her execution remarked in a letter to the Times, "Thank God she wasn't an English woman"