Double booking for the hangman….

NooseDuring my research for Vote for Murder, I came across the following extract  in a letter from P Jones to his friend and cousin Major Jones in which he mentioned murderess Mary Emily Cage, my inspiration for the book.  The letter entitled,  The brutality and cruelty of the British people , describes several British murders during 1851 including two Suffolk murders & the Chelmsford poisoning.  He claims that “such occurrences are seldom or never heard of in our southern states”.

A HIGH-SHERIFF IN DIFFICULTY; OR, A HANGMAN WANTED

“It will no doubt be in the recollection of many persons that the High Sheriff of Suffolk, in March last, was placed in no very pleasant position in consequence of the services of a hangman not being obtainable to carry into execution the last sentence of the law upon Maria Clarke, for the murder of her illegitimate child, by burying it alive in the parish of Wingfield. The high-sheriff, however, on that occasion, was spared an unpleasant duty by a reprieve coming down for the condemned woman two days before that on which her execution was to have taken place. At the assizes held at Ipswich, on the 2d inst., Maria Emily Cage was found guilty of the murder of her husband, James Cage, at Stonham Aspel, by administering to him a certain quantity of arsenic. Her execution was ordered to take place on Saturday (Aug. 16), in front of the Ipswich county jail, but the same difficulty was again presented as in March. Calcraft, the hangman, on being applied to, could not attend, as he had promised to perform a similar office the same morning at Norwich. An application was next made to the hangman at Warwick jail, but that functionary could not attend, as he would be similarly engaged at Shrewsbury on that day. A messenger was then despatched to the Secretary of State’s office, who explained the unpleasant position in which the high-sheriff of Suffolk was placed, and requested that the execution of Mary Emily Cage might be postponed. The answer from the Secretary of State was to the effect that no alteration as to the day named could be made; thus leaving the high-sheriff to get out of the difficulty in the best way he could. To have had the law carried into effect on Saturday would, in all probability, have been repugnant to the feelings of the high-sheriff, for, as no person could be found to supply the place of Calcraft, the high-sheriff must have performed the horrid duty himself. To avoid doing that, the high-sheriff has, on his own responsibility, ordered the execution to be delayed until an early day in the ensuing week. The condemned woman’s demeanor is becoming her awful position. She appears to be resigned to her fate, but protests that she is innocent. The unpleasant position of the high-sheriff, not only on this but on a former occasion, may be attributed to the usual course not being adopted—the making sure that Calcraft can attend before any day be appointed for the execution.”— The Times, August 17th, 1851.

It must have been rare for an execution to be delayed for want of an executioner, but there were an unusually high volume of death sentences that year.  Somewhere in the region of 50 death sentences were handed out in 1851, resulting in the public hanging of 3 women. Despite the delay recorded above, Mary Cage was ultimately executed by William Calcraft – the longest serving executioner.  Calcraft executed approximately 450 people,  34 of whom were women.

Mary Emily Cage – Murderess or victim?

Front cover snipOn 23rd March 1851, James Cage took his last breath, poisoned to death by his wife, Mary.  The Press were quick to report on the murder and  before long produced damning reports of Mary and her ‘depraved’ character, as evidenced in the extract from the 9 August 1851 Norfolk Chronicle, below:

“It will be remembered that just before the last Assizes, Mary Emily Cage, at Stonham, was examined on a charge of murdering her husband, by poisoning him.  The case was remanded until the Summer Assize, and at half-past eight o’clock on Saturday last, the wretched woman was placed at the bar to take her trial for the offence.  She exhibited little alteration in her appearance.  It is not our intention to lift the veil from the domestic history of this woman, any further than the trial itself removed it, for unfortunately there is not a feature in it that is not degrading to our common humanity. – Messrs. Power and Mills prosecuted; Mr. W. Cooper defended.

The case presented features of great depravity.  The deceased was an agricultural labourer, and with his wife, the prisoner, lived at Stonham Aspal.  They had a family of seventeen children, but one of them, now a lad of twenty years of age, was not the result of wedlock.  The deceased was imprisoned twelve months, and during his incarceration she cohabited with another man, and the result was the birth of the boy.  During the last eighteen months, she left her husband not less than three times, and exposed her daughter, sixteen years of age, to be debauched.  In other respects she led a very dissolute and depraved life…”

Vote for Murder” is a murder mystery based on Mary’s life . It takes a more sympathetic view of her behaviour than the Victorian press, taking into account the abject poverty in which she found herself.  The murder of James Cage contrasts with the second (fictional) murder set in a comfortable, middle-class household close to Christchurch Park in Ipswich.  Both lead female characters are headstrong; Mary determined to behave as she sees fit despite the social conventions of the time and Louisa, a suffragist campaigning for the right of women to vote.

Vote for Murder is a work of ‘faction’, where historical fact meets fiction.  From the first moment I read the Mary Cage story many years ago, the circumstances of the crime did not ‘feel’ as black & white as the press implied.  Vote For Murder is my fictional interpretation of Mary’s life and times.

Vote for Murder is now available through the Amazon Kindle Store http://tinyurl.com/pbpzehr

Coming Soon…….

Vote For Murder

Front cover snipIn the Spring of 1911, suffragist Louisa Russell finds an old diary in a box of artefacts, while attending a census evasion night at the Old Museum in Ipswich. The diary recounts the last days of Mary Emily Cage, executed for the murder of her husband six decades earlier.

When Louisa’s next door neighbour, Charles Drummond, dies under suspicious circumstances, the parallels between the two deaths become impossible to ignore.  But can two deaths sixty years apart be linked?  And can Louisa find the poisoner before an innocent woman is convicted?

 

Vote for murder is based on a real poisoning by Suffolk murderess, Mary Cage.  Set in Ipswich in 1911, the novel brings together suffragism in the early 1900’s and a grisly, Victorian murder. Due for publication at the end of September, Vote for Murder will appeal to readers of historical fiction, genealogical mysteries and Suffolk based crime books.