In 1867, the official records appeared to show that fewer murders were being committed in the country, and several newspapers published opinions on why this should be.
However, it was also a period that had seen the horrific murder of Sweet Fanny Adams, so the newspapers also felt that their might be a new type of murderer on the loose.
The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, on Wednesday the 4th of September 1867, had this to say:-
MURDER AND MURDERERS
It is comforting to believe that fewer murders are committed than there used to be in proportion to the population.
Recently published returns assure of that; and aa the means employed for the detection of crime are now so effective, there is no reason to disbelieve the statement.
At the same time, although education and religious training are more general, the murderers of our day appear not less savage and cruel in their nature than those in times past.
THE THIRST FOR BLOOD
Since Burke carried on his trade in death, or Palmer schemed his poisonings, no worse or more revolting atrocities have been heard of than those forced upon public attention within the last few days.
It would seem as if the thirst for blood survived all civilising influences, and that, in spite of gentler habits and their refining tendencies, there remains a latent desire for torture, the development which is not so rare as might be imagined!
CASES OF MURDER
Only last week two criminals convicted of murder perpetrated, according to their own confession, under circumstances of peculiar atrocity, were hanged.
Hubbard-Lingley shot his uncle for some imaginary grievance, and for this was executed at Norwich.
George Britten, a Somersetshire farmer, well to do in the world, murdered his wife by beating in her skull, and then, like Daniel Good, who hid away the mangled remains of his victim in the stables of Putney heath, he tried to conceal his crime by dragging the body to an outhouse and setting fire to the place.
For this he paid the extreme penalty of the law at Taunton.
THE ALTON MURDER
But while both offenders were under sentence of death, and while the Home Office was besieged with petitions on their behalf begging that their lives might be spared, as if in mockery of the law, somebody in the neighbourhood of Alton, a pleasant little market town in Hampshire, took a child, seven years old, ripped her body, cut off her head, and tore out her eyes and threw them into a river, either to escape the consequences of the crime, or merely to gratify fiendish instinct.
No wonder that a deaf ear was turned to Lingley and Britten’s sympathisers.
THE POWER TO RESPITE
In all criminal cases the Crown has power to respite – a process which, without actually quashing the verdict of the jurv, relieves the sufferer from the worst consequences.
This power is exercised, and does not cause serious objection when the Secretary State, in concurrence with the judge who presided, thinks that new facts altering the complexion of the case have since appeared, or that the jury were mistaken on the original evidence.
It is merciful provision, although there is a possibility of the prerogative being abused.
MEMORIALISING THE HOME SECRETARY
There is a system largely on the increase of memorialising the Home Secretary for a reprieve; and the minds of many are so constituted that they would rather see every constitutional safeguard shaken than a single man whom they believe innocent, although jury have believed otherwise, suffer punishment.
There is another class, perhaps not numerous, who, in the fanaticism of humanity, are ready to petition for the life of the worst criminals, with whose deeds no extenuating circumstances are associated to excuse mitigation of punishment.
And two or three notable instances of such petitioning have just occurred.
THE BIRMINGHAM CASE
At Birmingham, a defaulting clerk, named Scott, shot down his employer, “with the cool ferocity of a backwoods rowdy,” and was found guilty and sentenced to death.
There appeared no possible excuse for any effort being made in his behalf, and yet certain persons came forward with a memorial to the Home Secretary who, after consulting the judge before whom the criminal was tried, and in consequence of the recommendation made by that judge, granted a reprieve, though on what grounds we have yet to learn.
Encouraged by this glaring proof of the facility of escape of murderers, some weak-minded persons desired a similar respite for Lingley and Britten, contrary to the opinion both of judge and jury.
Their prayer was not heard, but it may be questioned whether that will deter others from begging the life of the interesting criminal who may proved the author of the Alton murder.