In February, 1832, a dreadful murder took place in Nuneaton, the victim of which was a woman of about forty years of age, whose name was Mary Green, although she was better known around the district under her alias of Polly Button.
Like the victims of Jack the Ripper just over fifty-two years later, Mary Green appears to have been one of those women who simply fell through the cracks of a society that had no safety net to catch her; and, like the women who would become Whitechapel murders victims, she too was classed as an “unfortunate” by the press of the day.
The Morning Advertiser reported on the case in its edition of Wednesday the 23rd of February 1832:-
THE MURDER OF POLLY BUTTON
During the past week, an extraordinary sensation prevailed in the town of Nuneaton, owing to the perpetration of an appalling murder, which took place on Saturday evening last, in that neighbourhood, on the body of an unfortunate woman, named Mary Green, otherwise better known by the name of Polly Button.
The following are the circumstances connected with the horrible transaction:-
The wretched woman Green was a native of Nuneaton, a single woman, and lived in a small house, together with five of her own illegitimate children, the fruit of an almost indiscriminate intercourse.
COHABITING WITH JOHN DANK
For the last three years, she had been cohabiting with a man named John Danks, by whom she had one child in the year 1829, and against whom she had affiliated another three weeks since, and of which she was eight months advanced in pregnancy.
Owing to this connection with Danks, who was a married man, various quarrels ensued between Danks, his wife, and Green.
On the evening of Saturday last, Danks went to the house of Green, and having called her out, they proceeded across a field at the rear of the wretched dwelling.
HER BODY FOUND
Bed-time arrived, and Green not returning home, a search was made for her in the neighbourhood by her daughter, but nothing was heard of her until the following morning, when the body was found in a field within twenty yards of the above-mentioned hovel weltering in blood, the head being nearly severed from the body.
The alarm having been given, suspicion fell upon Danks, who, when arrested and informed that the body had been found, exclaimed, “Well, if she is murdered I know nothing of it.”
He was taken to the guardhouse in Nuneaton.
On going up the steps, the prisoner took off his hat and waved it three or four times over his head.
Danks’s wife was next taken into custody, and confined in Mr. Haddin’s house.
DANKS’S WIFE QUESTIONED
On Monday morning, Messrs. Burton, Buchannan, the Rev. Mr. Docker, and Mr. Haddin, went to the house of Danks, and on examining the premises, an apron, stained apparently with blood, was found in a pot of water, in which there was also a quantity of potash; this, together with other circumstances, led to the opinion that Danks’s wife was also concerned in the murder, and in the evening the above gentlemen went to her, when she vehemently disclaimed all participation in the murder, but acknowledged that on Sunday morning, when in bed with her husband, he said to her, “Well, Polly Button will never disturb another family, for I cut her head almost off, and threw the knife into the hedge.”
This admission led to an important discovery: the field adjoining the one in which the murder was committed was searched the next morning, and on the other side of the hedge, as stated by Danks’s wife, a pocket knife, covered with blood, was found, which, it is said, has been identified as belonging to Danks.
A DESCRIPTION OF DANKS
Danks is a man about five feet four inches in height, between 40 and 50 years of age, by trade a carpenter, and by no means of forbidding countenance.
He neither denied nor acknowledged the offense; and throughout the whole maintained more than an ordinary degree of nerve and self-possession.
WITNESSES WERE CALLED
At his request, two persons were sent for as witnesses for him, and during the absence of the messenger he was asked if he wished for any refreshment, to which he replied that he should like a little bread and cheese; with this and a glass of ale he was supplied. He ate with avidity, and on taking up the ale glass, he drank the healths of the persons present.
The persons whom he sent for being examined, the following verdict was returned:- “That the deceased, Mary Green, was wilfully murdered, and that John Danks is the person who murdered her.”
The prisoner was now taken to the Guardhouse, followed by an immense crowd, and in going along was assailed with groans and hisses.
HIS WIFE SET AT LIBERTY
There being no evidence against his wife, she was ordered to be set at liberty, previous to which she seemed as if in a state of derangement, sometimes crying, and at others rolling her eyes about with a wild and vacant stare at those around her.
On the morning of the day on which she was liberated, being confined Mr. Haddin’s house, she availed herself of a temporary absence of the person who had her in charge, walked downstairs, passed out of the house unnoticed, and ran furiously up the street, until she came to a house, the door of which was open.
The owner of the house not being in, she entered and fastened the door, which being forced open, the miserable being was found sitting in one corner of the room upstairs, in the utmost terror.
The deceased was about forty years of age, of low stature, and of disagreeable appearance.
Yesterday Danks passed through Coventry in a cart, on his way to Warwick, where he will be tried at the next assizes.
Since writing the above we are informed that Danks has made a full confession of his guilt.
THE EXECUTION OF JOHN DANKS
At his subsequent trial, which was held at Warwick Crown Court on the 30th of March 1832, John Danks was found guilty of the murder of Polly Button.
On Monday the 2nd of April, 1832, he was hanged in front of Warwick Gaol, and following his execution, his body was taken to the Birmingham Medical School where he was dissected.