In April 1831, two men appeared in court charged taking away the body of an old man without the permission of his family.
The case was heard by Mr. Serjeant Arabin, and, despite the seriousness of the charge (they were charged with bodysnatching), the defence given by one of the culprits caused an awful lot of levity in the court.
The Warwick And Warwickshire Advertiser gave a detailed account of the case in its edition of Saturday the 30th of April, 1831:-
AN INGENIOUS BODY-SNATCHER
Two men, named Taylor and Martin, the first a notorious body-snatcher, and the second an undertaker, were indicted for having stolen the body of an old man, named Gardener, from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
Taylor had taken the old man, who had a spinal disease, to the Hospital.
In a very short time the patient sunk under the complaint, and Taylor contrived to get possession of the body by a manoeuvre, and assured the daughter of the deceased that her father had been ordered buried quickly, on account of the mortification which had taken place.
Martin accompanied Taylor in making application for the body at the hospital, and gave a wrong name and address.
It was soon discovered by the daughter that the body of her father had been removed, and the two prisoners were taken into custody.
THE MEETING IN FLEET LANE
Taylor defended himself in the (literally) following manner:-
“You see, please you, my Lord, I sees the poor old gentleman walking in Fleet Lane, wery bad; and so, says he, “Jack, I feels queerish, I don’t suppose as how I’ll get over this here caper.”
So, you see, I takes him into a public-house and gives him half a pint of beer quite warm, and a pipe of backy, and so he stays there till six or seven o’clock; and then, says he, “Jack, you must get me a place for to lay upon;” but they wouldn’t have him in no house whatsomdever; for, please you, my Lord, he warnt without warmint. (laughter).
TAKEN TO THE HOSPITAL
Well, then, my Lord, yon see be gets worse, and he axed me to take him to the hospital; and didn’t I take him?”
Alderman Winchester:- “Yes, and you took him away from it too” (laughter.).
Taylor:- “Well, my Lord, you see, when I sees him snug and comfortable in the bed, I goes off to his daughter, and I told she, and she warn’t by no means bevaricated by it; but she said she was obligated to me for my civility and humanity, you see, for taking care of the poor old creatur wot was so wery bad.
And so the old gentleman wanted a shirt bad, and I goes to his daughter, and I gets one with a frill to it, and I puts it on him.
TRIED AT THE OLD BAILEY
And so his daughter suddenly turns against me, and she gives me in charge, though I was so kind, for stealing the shirt; and I’m blest if they didn’t try me for it at the Old Bailey.” (A laugh.)
Serjeant Arabin:- “I know they did, for I tried you for the robbery.” (loud laughter-)
“Please you, my Lord, I think you was my Judge.
Well, you see, my Lord, they couldn’t do nothing with me.”
THE BODY WAS MISSING
Mr. Serjeant Arabin:- “Come to the point.”
Well, my Lord, I’ll come soon enough. (loud laughter).
So you see, she says to me, “Jack,” says she, “I’ll go to see the old gentleman the next day morning to the Hospital, for I believe he’s poorly; and please you, my lord, when she goes there she couldn’t find nobody at all, for the body warn’t there, because of how somebody took it away.” (roars of laughter.)
Serjeant Arabin:- “No doubt of it; you took it away, and can you prove where ’tis buried?’’
Taylor:- “Why you see, my Lord, I suppose it’s in the ground, for what else would you do with it? Ven the breath goes from us, there’s no use in going further, for then there’s an end of the caper.” (excessive laughter, in which the Court joined.)
THE END OF THE CASE
“Vel, my Lord, I never seed the body afterwards; and then they comes to me, and they charges with robbing it.
But, if it please you, my Lord, what could I do with it if I had it?
It an’t like the body of a cow, or a sheep; and you don’t think I’m such a feller that would do what the beggars does with the people wot they kills?” (loud laughter.)
The Jury told Serjeant Arabin that it was unnecessary to sum up, and found the prisoners Guilty.
Taylor was sentenced to imprisonment for nine months, and Martin for three.