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A.K.A.: "Mallcombe"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 3
Date of murder: February 4, 1733
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: 1711
Victim profile: Lydia Dunscomb, 80 (her employer), Elizabeth Harrison, 60 (servant), and Ann Price, 17 (servant)
Method of murder: Strangulation - Cutting the throat
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging on March 7, 1733

Sarah Malcolm was a powerfully built 22-year-old Irish laundress employed in the Fleet street home of Mrs Lydia Dunscomb, a wealthy widow. On the night of 5 February 1733 she entered the bedroom of her 80-year-old employer and strangled her as she slept. To ensure that there would be no one to point the finger she also strangled 60-year-old Elizabeth Harrison and cut the throat of 17-year-old Ann Price, the other servants in the house that night.

She was now able to ransack the house without fear of disturbance. Once she had gathered all she wanted she fled from the house. When she was apprehended she was still carrying the stolen goods. Although Sarah denied any knowledge of the crimes the evidence was overwhelming and she was sentenced to death. She was hanged on 7 March 1733 on a gallows erected in the middle of the street between Mitre Court and Fetter Lane by John Hooper.


MALCOLM, Sarah (England)

Most female murderers use poison to dispose of their victims; whether this is because they have greater opportunity to add it to the food they are preparing, or that they recoil from employing actual weapons, is not known, but 22-year-old Sarah Malcolm from Ireland certainly did not waste time going to the chemist for arsenic under the pretext of needing it to kill rats; she much preferred her bare hands and a sharp knife – if indeed the findings of the court were correct.

On first coming to London she worked in the Black Horse Inn, near Temple Bar, where she met two brothers, Thomas and James Alexander, men of somewhat dubious character.

Subsequently she obtained a job as a laundress in a set of lawyers’ chambers in the Inns of Court, one of her employers being a young Irishman named Mr Kerril, and another, Mrs Lydia Duncomb, a reputedly wealthy 80-year-old lady who had two maids, Elizabeth Harrison, aged 60, and 17-year-old Ann Price.

On 3 February 1733 Sarah called at Mrs Duncomb’s chambers in Tanfield Court in the Inner Temple, ostensibly to visit Elizabeth Harrison, who had been ill, although it was later surmised that her actual motive could have been to make sure there had been no changes to the layout of the rooms.

The following day a friend of Mrs Duncomb’s called at the block of chambers but, on getting no reply, contacted a woman working in the next room, who, by dint of climbing out of her employer’s room and breaking a window in Mrs Duncomb’s chambers, succeeded in gaining an entrance. When the two women went in, they were horrified at the gruesome sight that greeted them, for there, to quote the Newgate Calendar ‘was the body of Ann Price, lying on her bed, wallowing in blood, with her throat cut from ear to ear’. In the next room lay Elizabeth Harrison, who had obviously been strangled, as had Mrs Duncomb in an adjoining room. A chest, in which the old lady had kept her valuables, had been broken into and the contents removed.

The news spread swiftly round the locality and Mr Kerril, on going to his quarters, found Sarah Malcolm there, lighting the fires. He noticed a bundle lying on the floor and on querying its contents, she replied that it was her gown, together with other garments and she said she hoped decency would deter him from opening it. So, of course, he refrained from doing so. However, two watchmen, the police officers of the day, started to search the building, and on finding some of Mr Kerril’s belongings hidden in her rooms, Sarah was arrested. A further search by her employer revealed more linen, and a silver tankard with a bloodstained handle concealed in the lavatory. On being interrogated, Sarah alleged that they belonged to her mother and that the blood was from her hand, having cut her finger that morning.

Such excuses being regarded as frivolous, Sarah was taken to Newgate Prison, and in accordance with regulations she was searched. On doing so, Mr Johnson, the turnkey, was astonished to find a small bag containing coins amounting to over a hundred pounds in value hidden beneath the thick coiled tresses of her hair. At the discovery, Sarah admitted that the money belonged to Mrs Duncomb, adding brazenly, ‘I’ll make you a present of it if you will but keep it to yourself and let nobody know of anything of the matter; for the other things against me are nothing but circumstances, and I shall come off well enough.

So I only desire you to let me have threepence or sixpence a day till the court sessions are over, and then I’ll be at liberty to shift for myself.’ Johnson, however, was a man of integrity; yielding not to temptation, he promptly sealed up the bag and locked it away to await her trial.

In court Sarah claimed that the murders had been committed by the Alexander brothers; that having all the keys to the chambers, as required by her job, she had admitted them to Mrs Duncomb’s rooms, but had taken no part in the crimes but had watched from the stairs. Whether this account was true or not, so overwhelming was the evidence of the bloody-handled tankard, and the clothing and money in her possession, that the verdict was not long forthcoming. She was found guilty and sentenced to death.

On 7 March 1733 she was taken in the horse-drawn cart from Newgate, accompanied by the hangman ‘Laughing Jack’ Hooper, to the set of gallows erected near Fetter Lane in Fleet Street, it being the custom in those days to execute a murderer as near as possible to the place of the crime. An onlooker said that Sarah had rouged her cheeks heavily to conceal her prison pallor, and was wearing a black gown, white apron, a hood made of sarsenet (a fine soft silk fabric) and black gloves; she appeared very serious and devout, crying and wringing her hands in an extraordinary manner. She was helped in her devotions by the Reverend Peddington of the Church of St Bartholomew the Great, and Mr Guthrie, the Ordinary of Newgate Prison went with her in the cart en route to the scaffold. Another observer declared that ‘at one time that she was in the cart, what with praying, Agony and Passion, she fell down, but was immediately rais’d, and laid her head against hangman John Hooper, and Mr Peddington read to her.’

On arrival she called out to the bellman who had been ringing his bell to warn everyone of the vehicle’s approach, and gave him a shilling with which to buy himself a bottle of wine; she then declared to the crowd ‘that her employer Mr Kerril knew nothing of her intentions of the robbery and the terrible deeds that followed’ and also said that ‘she had given Mr Peddington a letter in which she related what she had to say about the fact’.

On the scaffold she was seen to sway momentarily but swiftly recovered as Hooper dropped the noose over her head and tightened it. Climbing down out of the cart, he gave the horse a sharp slap on its flanks, causing the steed, and the cart, to move away and leave Sarah swinging and kicking for some little time in the empty air. At length she was cut down and taken by coach back to Newgate and buried.

The inevitably vast crowd watched Sarah’s execution and so great was the surging and jostling after she had been cut down that the scaffold itself almost collapsed; the gangs of thieves who usually attended such profitable events seized the opportunity to enhance their bank balances, and many of the more affluent of the spectators found their pockets empty, their purses and watches gone.

Amazing True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott


Sarah Malcolm - 1733

Sarah Malcolm is the third in this series of educated, middle class young women who met her death at the hands of the “common hangman”.  She was just twenty two when she was hanged for the murders of three women during a robbery at the home of one of them.

Sarah originated from Durham and had been born in 1711 to a good family.  However her father had squandered the family’s money and as a teenager Sarah was forced to move to London and go into service.  Initially she performed her duties well but later got a job at the Black Horse, a pub in Boswell Court near Temple Bar, where she became involved with London’s low life. 

She left her job at the Black Horse and took a job as laundress to several chambers (apartments) above the Inns of Court, working for some of the tenants there.  Among her customers was Mrs. Lydia Duncomb, a wealthy but somewhat frail old lady, whose age is variously quoted as being between 60 and 80, who occupied a set of chambers in Tanfield Court in the Temple.  She employed two live-in servants, Elizabeth Harrison, aged sixty who was effectively retired, and seventeen year old Ann Price who had been employed to take over Elizabeth’s duties.  Elizabeth “Betty” Harrison had been Mrs. Duncomb’s companion for many years.

The murders

The precise events of the night of Saturday the 3rd of February 1733, are unknown because Sarah never gave a credible account of them.  She told her trial that she entered the old lady’s apartment with Martha Tracey and the Alexander brothers and they carried out the robbery while she kept watch on the stairs and thus took no part in the murders. 

The first body discovered was that of Ann Price with a knife wound to her throat.  Her body was found in the passage leading to the apartment, her hands clutched to her wound.  Elizabeth Harrison was found lying across her bed having been strangled with her apron string or similar and Mrs. Duncomb similarly lying across her bed.  It seemed that she too had been strangled but that she might have died of shock and fright, and the weight of her assailant’s body on top of her. 

On the Sunday morning one of Mrs. Duncomb’s friends, a Mrs. Ann Love, arrived for a dinner invitation, but could get no answer or see any sign of life. She went to fetch another of Mrs. Duncomb’s friends, a Mrs Frances Rhymer and they could not raise the old lady.  Sarah also came up and Mrs. Love, fearing that all was not well sent Sarah to find a locksmith. Sarah returned later with Mrs. Ann Oliphant, also a friend of Mrs. Duncomb, who was quite a bit younger and managed to gain entry into the apartment. 

They were met with the horrific sites described above.  They also realised that the apartment had been stripped of anything of value and Mrs. Duncomb’s strongbox had been forced open.  Other neighbours came to see what was going on. A doctor was sent for by one of the Temple porters and  Mr. Thomas Bigg, a surgeon, made a preliminary examination of the three deceased women.


John Kerrel was also a tenant of the Chambers and he too employed Sarah.  He had been out on the Saturday and returned home around one o’clock on the Sunday morning, to find Sarah in his room.  He was surprised to see her there at that time of night and being aware of the murders, asked her if anyone had been arrested. 

He told her to leave and was obviously not comfortable with her presence as he believed that whoever had committed the murders knew their way around the apartments.  He also discovered that some of his waistcoats were missing and when he challenged Sarah about this she confessed that she had pawned them.  Sarah left but now being thoroughly suspicious he made a search and in the Close-stool he found some linen and underneath a silver tankard with blood on the handle.  Under the bed he found a blood stained shift and apron. 

He immediately called the watchmen and they caught up with Sarah by the Inner-Temple Gate.  They brought her back to John Kerrel’s apartment who asked her if the tankard was hers and she told him it was and that it had been given her by her mother. She was now taken to the constable and he took her before Alderman Brocas who sent her to the Compter (local lock-up jail) and on the Monday morning committed her to Newgate prison. 

As part of the normal admissions procedure, she was searched on arrival and was found to have a considerable amount of silver and gold coins about her, which she allegedly admitted were Mrs. Duncomb’s. They also found a purse containing twenty-one guineas in the bosom of her dress, which Sarah claimed she had found in the street. She offered these to Mr. Johnson the turnkey (warder) if he made no mention of them.  He refused this and took the coins to his superiors and reported the attempt to bribe him.  She also repeated to Mr. Roger Johnson that she had organised the robbery but that she had stayed on the stairs leading up to the apartment while Martha Tracey and the Alexander brothers had carried it out.

An inquest was held into the murders and Sarah was indicted by the Coroner's Court.


Sarah came to trial at the Old Bailey at the February Sessions for the City of London, and County of Middlesex which were held on Wednesday the 21st to Saturday the 24th of February.  Sarah’s trial was scheduled for Friday the 23rd.

The indictment against her read as follows:

“Sarah Malcolm, alias Mallcombe was indicted for the Murder of Ann Price, Spinster, by wilfully and maliciously giving her with a Knife one mortal Wound on the Throat, of the length of two Inches, and depth of one Inch, on the 4th of February instant, of which wound the said Anne Price instantly died.

She was a second time indicted for the Murder of Elizabeth Harrison, spinster, by strangling and choking her with a cord, on the said 4th of February; by reason of which strangling and choking the said Elizabeth Harrison instantly died.

She was a third time indicted for the Murder of Lydia Duncomb , Widow, by strangling and choking her with a Cord, on the said 4th of February, by which Strangling and Choking the said Lydia Duncomb instantly died.

She was again indicted for breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Lydia Duncomb , Widow, and stealing 20 Moidores, (Spanish gold coins valued at 27 shillings each) 18 Guineas, one Broad-Piece, value 25 s. 4 Broad-Pieces, value 23 s. each, one half Broad-Piece, value 11 s. 6 d. 25 s. in Silver, a Silver Tankard, Value 40 s. a Canvas Bag, Value 1 d. and two Smocks, value 12 s. on the 4th day of February instant, about the hour of 2 in the night of the same day.” 

Sarah pleaded not guilty to all of these charges.

As all of these indictments were capital offences, it was decided to proceed with the first charge only (the murder of Ann Price) to save court time.  The prosecution told the jury that if they were not convinced by the evidence and by the findings of the Coroner's court, it was for them to say how Ann Price died. The basic chronology of the crime, discovery of the bodies and the arrest of Sarah were now put before the jury.

John Kerrel was the first to give evidence and he told the court of the events leading to the arrest.  His friend and neighbour, John Gehagan, also testified for the prosecution and confirmed the discoveries of the blood stained clothes and the tankard.  The two watchmen,  John Mastreter and Richard Hughs gave evidence of Sarah’s arrest and told the court how she claimed that the blood on the tankard was her own from a cut finger.  Frances Rhymer, who looked after Mrs. Duncomb’s financial affair, identified the tankard and the purse that had been found on Sarah and told the court of the contents of the old lady’s strong box.

Sarah cross examined each prosecution witness in minute detail and made much of any differences between the known facts and their recollections of events, in an effort to discredit their testimony.

Roger Johnson told the court how he had searched Sarah in Newgate and made his incriminating discoveries.  He testified that she admitted to him that the money was Mrs. Duncomb's and offered it to him to keep quiet about it.  He remembered that the purse contained twenty Moidores, eighteen Guineas, five Broad-Pieces, one 25 s. piece, some 23 s. pieces, a half Broad-Piece, five crowns, and two or three shillings.  (Quite a large sum).  Johnson further suggested that Sarah had told him she had hired three witnesses to testify that the tankard was hers.  Sarah claimed that she had given the money to Johnson for safe keeping and that he was to return it to her when she was acquitted.  Johnson’s superior, Mr. Alstone, confirmed Johnson’s account and also added that Sarah had told him that she had planned the robbery and had been assisted by Martha Tracey and the Alexander brothers.

The next piece of evidence was the statement, taken on oath, when Sarah appeared before Sir Richard Brocas on the 6th of February.  In this she affirmed that she had planned the robbery but that she had remained on the stairs outside the old lady’s apartment whilst it was carried out, by Tracey and the Alexanders.

Sarah was not represented by counsel but offered a spirited defence.  She claimed that the blood on her shift and apron was from her period and was not that of the murdered maid and attempted to show that the blood stains found on these were not consistent with murder.  She claimed the blood on the handle of the tankard was from her finger cut. 

She admitted to planning the robbery and to being an accessory to the crime and accepted that these crimes deserved death.  She then gave an account of the crime which implicated Tracey and the Alexanders but absolved herself from the actual killings.  She told the court that while she accepted that she would hang for robbery in a dwelling house she could not confess to the murders, as she was innocent of them. 

She also asked the judge to order the return of the money found on her that was over and above that stolen from Mrs. Duncomb. At the end of her defence, the jury retired for fifteen minutes to consider their verdict.  Sarah was found guilty of the robbery and the one murder charge that was proceeded with and also guilty in accordance with the verdict of the Coroner's Inquisition, i.e. the other two murders.  The authorities had no evidence against Martha Tracey and the Alexander brothers and did not charge them with anything.

She was taken back to Newgate and the following day, at the end of the Sessions, returned to court to be sentenced to death, along with nine men.  Her case was reported in the London Magazine, or Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer, for March, 1733.

In the condemned hold at Newgate she continued to refuse to confess to the murders.  Crimes like this were very rare at the time, especially when committed by a young woman and so she was seen as something of a celebrity and the well known painter William Hogarth visited her in prison two days before her execution and sketched her prior to painting her portrait. 

As was normal at the time, in the case of particularly shocking murders, it was arranged that her execution would take place as near to the crime scene as possible.  She was apparently distressed about the venue as she would die amidst people who knew her rather than at Tyburn where she would have been somewhat more anonymous, among the eight men condemned at the same Sessions who suffered there on Monday the 5th of March.

She is reported to have confessed on the night before she was hanged and the details were printed in “A Paper delivered by Sarah Malcolm on the Night before her Execution to the Rev. Mr. Piddington, and published by Him” (London, 1733). However this was more of a self justification than a confession.


Sarah’s execution was set for Wednesday the 7th of March.  Newgate’s portable gallows was set up in Fleet Street, in the square opposite Mitre Court for the purpose.  Sarah was prepared in the normal way by the Yeoman of the Halter, her hands tied in front of her and halter around her neck. She was placed in the cart with John Hooper, the hangman to make the short journey to Fleet Street accompanied by a troop of Javelin Men and the Under Sheriff.  Sarah is said to have fainted in the cart and also to have “wrung her hands and wept most bitterly”. 

When she arrived at the gallows she listened carefully to the Ordinary’s prayers for her soul and again fainted.  She was revived and just before the cart was driven from under her is reported to have turned towards the Temple and cried out “Oh, my mistress, my mistress! I wish I could see her!” and then, casting her eyes towards heaven, called upon Christ to receive her soul.  She was dragged off the cart by the rope and left kicking in the air, she died after a brief struggle. 

Her body was taken down and according to the parish records she was buried in the churchyard of St. Sepulchre's church on the 10th of March.  It is possible that her body was anatomised after execution.  Strangely it seemed that John Hooper was the only person present to have any real sympathy for her.  Hogarth thought that “she was capable of any wickedness” and the crowd surrounding the gallows were of the same view.


A Model for Mr Hogarth

On a Sunday, the 5th of February, 1733, there came toddling into that narrow passage of the Temple known as Tanfield Court an elderly lady by the name of Mrs Love. It was just after one o'clock of the afternoon. The giants of St Dunstan's behind her had only a minute before rapped out the hour with their clubs.

Mrs Love's business was at once charitable and social. She was going, by appointment made on the previous Friday night, to eat dinner with a frail old lady named Mrs Duncomb, who lived in chambers on the third floor of one of the buildings that had entry from the court.

Mrs Duncomb was the widow of a law stationer of the City. She had been a widow for a good number of years. The deceased law stationer, if he had not left her rich, at least had left her in fairly comfortable circumstances. It was said about the environs that she had some property, and this fact, combined with the other that she was obviously nearing the end of life's journey, made her an object of melancholy interest to the womenkind of the neighbourhood.

Mrs Duncomb was looked after by a couple of servants. One of them, Betty Harrison, had been the old lady's companion for a lifetime. Mrs Duncomb, described as "old,'' was only sixty.[16] Her weakness and bodily condition seem to have made her appear much older. Betty, then, also described as "old,'' may have been of an age with her mistress, or even older. She was, at all events, not by much less frail. The other servant was a comparatively new addition to the establishment, a fresh little girl of about seventeen, Ann (or Nanny) Price by name.

[16] According to one account. The Newgate Calendar (London 1773) gives Mrs Duncomb's age as eighty and that of the maid Betty as sixty.

Mrs Love climbed the three flights of stairs to the top landing. It surprised her, or disturbed her, but little that she found no signs of life on the various floors, because it was, as we have seen, a Sunday. The occupants of the chambers of the staircase, mostly gentlemen connected in one way or another with the law, would be, she knew abroad for the eating of their Sunday dinners, either at their favourite taverns or at commons in the Temple itself. What did rather disturb kindly Mrs Love was the fact that she found Mrs Duncomb's outer door closed--an unwonted fact--and it faintly surprised her that no odour of cooking greeted her nostrils.

Mrs Love knocked. There was no reply. She knocked, indeed, at intervals over a period of some fifteen minutes, still obtaining no response. The disturbed sense of something being wrong became stronger and stronger in the mind of Mrs Love.

On the night of the previous Friday she had been calling upon Mrs Duncomb, and she had found the old lady very weak, very nervous, and very low in spirits. It had not been a very cheerful visit all round, because the old maidservant, Betty Harrison, had also been far from well. There had been a good deal of talk between the old women of dying, a subject to which their minds had been very prone to revert. Besides Mrs Love there were two other visitors, but they too failed to cheer the old couple up. One of the visitors, a laundress of the Temple called Mrs Oliphant, had done her best, poohpoohing such melancholy talk, and attributing the low spirits in which the old women found themselves to the bleakness of the February weather, and promising them that they would find a new lease of life with the advent of spring. But Mrs Betty especially had been hard to console.

''My mistress,'' she had said to cheerful Mrs Oliphant, "will talk of dying. And she would have me die with her.''

As she stood in considerable perturbation of mind on the cheerless third-floor landing that Sunday afternoon Mrs Love found small matter for comfort in her memory of the Friday evening. She remembered that old Mrs Duncomb had spoken complainingly of the lonesomeness which had come upon her floor by the vacation of the chambers opposite her on the landing. The tenant had gone a day or two before, leaving the rooms empty of furniture, and the key with a Mr Twysden.

Mrs. Love, turning to view the door opposite to that on which she had been rapping so long and so ineffectively, had a shuddery feeling that she was alone on the top of the world.

She remembered how she had left Mrs Duncomb on the Friday night. Mrs Oliphant had departed first, accompanied by the second visitor, one Sarah Malcolm, a charwoman who had worked for Mrs Duncomb up to the previous Christmas, and who had called in to see how her former employer was faring. An odd, silent sort of young woman this Sarah, good-looking in a hardfeatured sort of way, she had taken but a very small part in the conversation, but had sat staring rather sullenly into the fire by the side of Betty Harrison, or else casting a flickering glance about the room.

Mrs Love, before following the other two women downstairs, had helped the ailing Betty to get Mrs Duncomb settled for the night. In the dim candle-light and the faint glow of the fire that scarce illumined the wainscoted room the high tester-bed of the old lady, with its curtains, had seemed like a shadowed catafalque, an illusion nothing lessened by the frail old figure under the bedclothing.

It came to the mind of Mrs Love that the illness manifesting itself in Betty on the Friday night had worsened. Nanny, she imagined, must have gone abroad on some errand. The old servant, she thought, was too ill to come to the door, and her voice would be too weak to convey an answer to the knocking. Mrs Love, not without a shudder for the chill feeling of that top landing, betook herself downstairs again to make what inquiry she might. It happened that she met one of her fellow-visitors of the Friday night, Mrs Oliphant.

Mrs Oliphant was sympathetic, but could not give any information. She had seen no member of the old lady's establishment that day. She could only advise Mrs Love to go upstairs again and knock louder.

This Mrs Love did, but again got no reply. She then evolved the theory that Betty had died during the night, and that Nanny, Mrs Duncomb being confined to bed, had gone to look for help, possibly from her sister, and to find a woman who would lay out the body of the old servant. With this in her mind Mrs Love descended the stairs once more, and went to look for another friend of Mrs Duncomb's, a Mrs Rhymer.

Mrs Rhymer was a friend of the old lady's of some thirty years' standing. She was, indeed, named as executrix in Mrs Duncomb's will. Mrs Love finding her and explaining the situation as she saw it, Mrs Rhymer at once returned with Mrs Love to Tanfield Court.

The two women ascended the stairs, and tried pushing the old lady's door. It refused to yield to their efforts. Then Mrs Love went to the staircase window that overlooked the court, and gazed around to see if there was anyone about who might help. Some distance away, at the door, we are told, ''of my Lord Bishop of Bangor,'' was the third of Friday night's visitors to Mrs Duncomb, the charwoman named Sarah Malcolm. Mrs Love hailed her.

"Prithee, Sarah,'' begged Mrs Love, ''go and fetch a smith to open Mrs Duncomb's door.''

''I will go at all speed,'' Sarah assured her, with ready willingness, and off she sped. Mrs Love and Mrs Rhymer waited some time. Sarah came back with Mrs Oliphant in tow, but had been unable to secure the services of a locksmith. This was probably due to the fact that it was a Sunday.

By now both Mrs Love and Mrs Rhymer had become deeply apprehensive, and the former appealed to Mrs Oliphant. "I do believe they are all dead, and the smith is not come!'' cried Mrs Love. ''What shall we do, Mrs Oliphant?''

Mrs Oliphant, much younger than the others, seems to have been a woman of resource. She had from Mr Twysden, she said, the key of the vacant chambers opposite to Mrs Duncomb's. "Now let me see,'' she continued, ''if I cannot get out of the back chamber window into the gutter, and so into Mrs Duncomb's apartment.''

The other women urged her to try.[17] Mrs Oliphant set off, her heels echoing in the empty rooms. Presently the waiting women heard a pane snap, and they guessed that Mrs Oliphant had broken through Mrs Duncomb's casement to get at the handle. They heard, through the door, the noise of furniture being moved as she got through the window. Then came a shriek, the scuffle of feet. The outer door of Mrs Duncomb's chambers was flung open. Mrs Oliphant, ashen-faced, appeared on the landing. ''God! Oh, gracious God!'' she cried. "They're all murdered!

[17] One account says it was Sarah Malcolm who entered via the gutter and window. Borrow, however, in his Celebrated Trials, quotes Mrs Oliphant's evidence in court on this point.


All four women pressed into the chambers. All three of the women occupying them had been murdered. In the passage or lobby little Nanny Price lay in her bed in a welter of blood, her throat savagely cut. Her hair was loose and over her eyes, her clenched hands all bloodied about her throat.

It was apparent that she had struggled desperately for life. Next door, in the dining-room, old Betty Harrison lay across the press-bed in which she usually slept. Being in the habit of keeping her gown on for warmth, as it was said, she was partially dressed. She had been strangled, it seemed, ''with an apron-string or a pack-thread,'' for there was a deep crease about her neck and the bruised indentations as of knuckles.

In her bedroom, also across her bed, lay the dead body of old Mrs Duncomb. There had been here also an attempt to strangle, an unnecessary attempt it appeared, for the crease about the neck was very faint. Frail as the old lady had been, the mere weight of the murderer's body, it was conjectured, had been enough to kill her.

These pathological details were established on the arrival later of Mr Bigg, the surgeon, fetched from the Rainbow Coffee-house near by by Fairlow, one of the Temple porters. But the four women could see enough for themselves, without the help of Mr Bigg, to understand how death had been dealt in all three cases. They could see quite clearly also for what motive the crime had been committed. A black strong-box, with papers scattered about it, lay beside Mrs Duncomb's bed, its lid forced open. It was in this box that the old lady had been accustomed to keep her money.

If any witness had been needed to say what the black box had contained there was Mrs Rhymer, executrix under the old lady's will. And if Mrs. Rhymer had been at any need to refresh her memory regarding the contents opportunity had been given her no farther back than the afternoon of the previous Thursday. On that day she had called upon Mrs Duncomb to take tea and to talk affairs. Three or four years before, with her rapidly increasing frailness, the old lady's memory had begun to fail. Mrs Rhymer acted for her as a sort of unofficial curator bonis, receiving her money and depositing it in the black box, of which she kept the key.

On the Thursday, old Betty and young Nanny being sent from the room, the old lady had told Mrs Rhymer that she needed some money--a guinea. Mrs Rhymer had gone through the solemn process of opening the black box, and, one must suppose--old ladies nearing their end being what they are--had been at need to tell over the contents of the box for the hundredth time, just to reassure Mrs Duncomb that she thoroughly understood the duties she had agreed to undertake as executrix

At the top of the box was a silver tankard. It had belonged to Mrs Duncomb's husband. In the tankard was a hundred pounds. Beside the tankard lay a bag containing guinea pieces to the number of twenty or so. This was the bag that Mrs Rhymer had carried over to the old lady's chair by the fire, in order to take from it the needed guinea.

There were some half-dozen packets of money in the box, each sealed with black wax and set aside for particular purposes after Mrs Duncomb's death. Other sums, greater in quantity than those contained in the packets, were earmarked in the same way. There was, for example, twenty guineas set aside for the old lady's burial, eighteen moidores to meet unforeseen contingencies, and in a green purse some thirty or forty shillings, which were to be distributed among poor people of Mrs Duncomb's acquaintance.

The ritual of telling over the box contents, if something ghostly, had had its usual effect of comforting the old lady's mind. It consoled her to know that all arrangements were in order for her passing in genteel fashion to her long home, that all the decorums of respectable demise would be observed, and that ''the greatest of these'' would not be forgotten. The ritual over, the black box was closed and locked, and on her departure Mrs Rhymer had taken away the key as usual.

The motive for the crime, as said, was plain. The black box had been forced, and there was no sign of tankard, packets, green purse, or bag of guineas.

The horror and distress of the old lady's friends that Sunday afternoon may better be imagined than described. Loudest of the four, we are told, was Sarah Malcolm. It is also said that she was, however, the coolest, keen to point out the various methods by which the murderers (for the crime to her did not look like a single-handed effort) could have got into the chambers.

She drew attention to the wideness of the kitchen chimney and to the weakness of the lock in the door to the vacant rooms on the other side of the landing. She also pointed out that, since the bolt of the spring-lock of the outer door to Mrs Duncomb's rooms had been engaged when they arrived, the miscreants could not have used that exit.

This last piece of deduction on Sarah's part, however, was made rather negligible by experiments presently carried out by the porter, Fairlow, with the aid of a piece of string. He showed that a person outside the shut door could quite easily pull the bolt to on the inside.

The news of the triple murder quickly spread, and it was not long before a crowd had collected in Tanfield Court, up the stairs to Mrs. Duncomb's landing, and round about the door of Mrs Duncomb's chambers. It did not disperse until the officers had made their investigations and the bodies of the three victims had been removed. And even then, one may be sure, there would still be a few of those odd sort of people hanging about who, in those times as in these, must linger on the scene of a crime long after the last drop of interest has evaporated.


Two further actors now come upon the scene. And for the proper grasping of events we must go back an hour or two in time to notice their activities.

They are a Mr Gehagan, a young Irish barrister, and a friend of his named Kerrel.[18] These young men occupy chambers on opposite sides of the same landing, the third floor, over the Alienation Office in Tanfield Court.

[18] Or Kerrol--the name varies in different accounts of the crime.

Mr Gehagan was one of Sarah Malcolm's employers. That Sunday morning at nine she had appeared in his rooms to do them up and to light the fire. While Gehagan was talking to Sarah he was joined by his friend Kerrel, who offered to stand him some tea. Sarah was given a shilling and sent out to buy tea. She returned and made the brew, then remained about the chambers until the horn blew, as was then the Temple custom, for commons. The two young men departed. After commons they walked for a while in the Temple Gardens, then returned to Tanfield Court.

By this time the crowd attracted by the murder was blocking up the court, and Gehagan asked what was the matter. He was told of the murder, and he remarked to Kerrel that the old lady had been their charwoman's acquaintance.

The two friends then made their way to a coffee-house in Covent Garden. There was some talk there of the murder, and the theory was advanced by some one that it could have been done only by some laundress who knew the chambers and how to get in and out of them.

From Covent Garden, towards night, Gehagan and Kerrel went to a tavern in Essex Street, and there they stayed carousing until one o'clock in the morning, when they left for the Temple. They were not a little astonished on reaching their common landing to find Kerrel's door open, a fire burning in the grate of his room, and a candle on the table. By the fire, with a dark riding-hood about her head, was Sarah Malcolm.

To Kerrel's natural question of what she was doing there at such an unearthly hour she muttered something about having things to collect. Kerrel then, reminding her that Mrs Duncomb had been her acquaintance, asked her if anyone had been ``taken up'' for the murder.

"That Mr Knight,'' Sarah replied, "who has chambers under her, has been absent two or three days. He is suspected.''

''Well,'' said Kerrel, remembering the theory put forward in the coffee-house, and made suspicious by her presence at that strange hour, "nobody that was acquainted with Mrs Duncomb is wanted here until the murderer is discovered. Look out your things, therefore, and begone!''

Kerrel's suspicion thickened, and he asked his friend to run downstairs and call up the watch. Gehagan ran down, but found difficulty in opening the door below, and had to return. Kerrel himself went down then, and came back with two watchmen. They found Sarah in the bedroom at a chest of drawers, in which she was turning over some linen that she claimed to be hers. The now completely suspicious Kerrel went to his closet, and noticed that two or three waistcoats were missing from a portmanteau. He asked Sarah where they were; upon which Sarah, with an eye to the watchmen and to Gehagan, begged to be allowed to speak with him alone.

Kerrel refused, saying he could have no business with her that was secret.

Sarah then confessed that she had pawned the missing waistcoats for two guineas, and begged him not to be angry. Kerrel asked her why she had not asked him for money. He could readily forgive her for pawning the waistcoats, but, having heard her talk of Mrs Lydia Duncomb, he was afraid she was concerned with the murder.

A pair of earrings were found in the drawers, and these Sarah claimed, putting them in her corsage. An odd-looking bundle in the closet then attracted Kerrel's attention, and he kicked it, and asked Sarah what it was. She said it was merely dirty linen wrapped up in an old gown. She did not wish it exposed. Kerrel made further search, and found that other things were missing. He told the watch to take the woman and hold her strictly.

Sarah was led away. Kerrel, now thoroughly roused, continued his search, and he found underneath his bed another bundle. He also came upon some bloodstained linen in another place, and in a close-stool a silver tankard, upon the handle of which was a lot of dried blood.

Kerrel's excitement passed to Gehagan, and the two of them went at speed downstairs yelling for the watch. After a little the two watchmen reappeared, but without Sarah. They had let her go, they said, because they had found nothing on her, and, besides, she had not been charged before a constable.

One here comes upon a recital by the watchmen which reveals the extraordinary slackness in dealing with suspect persons that characterized the guardians of the peace in London in those times. They had let the woman go, but she had come back. Her home was in Shoreditch, she said, and rather than walk all that way on a cold and boisterous night she had wanted to sit up in the watch-house. The watchmen refused to let her do this, but ordered her to "go about her business,'' advising her sternly at the same time to turn up again by ten o'clock in the morning. Sarah had given her word, and had gone away.

On hearing this story Kerrel became very angry, threatening the two watchmen, Hughes and Mastreter, with Newgate if they did not pick her up again immediately. Upon this the watchmen scurried off as quickly as their age and the cumbrous nature of their clothing would let them.

They found Sarah in the company of two other watchmen at the gate of the Temple. Hughes, as a means of persuading her to go with them more easily, told her that Kerrel wanted to speak with her, and that he was not angry any longer. Presently, in Tanfield Court, they came on the two young men carrying the tankard and the bloodied linen. This time it was Gehagan who did the talking. He accused Sarah furiously, showing her the tankard. Sarah attempted to wipe the blood off the tankard handle with her apron. Gehagan stopped her.

Sarah said the tankard was her own. Her mother had given it her, and she had had it for five years. It was to get the tankard out of pawn that she had taken Kerrel's waistcoats, needing thirty shillings. The blood on the handle was due to her having pricked a finger.

With this began the series of lies Sarah Malcolm put up in her defence. She was hauled into the watchman's box and more thoroughly searched. A green silk purse containing twenty-one guineas was found in the bosom of her dress. This purse Sarah declared she had found in the street, and as an excuse for its cleanliness, unlikely with the streets as foul as they were at that age and time of year, said she had washed it. Both bundles of linen were bloodstained. There was some doubt as to the identity of the green purse.

Mrs Rhymer, who, as we have seen, was likelier than anyone to recognize it, would not swear it was the green purse that had been in Mrs Duncomb's black box. There was, however, no doubt at all about the tankard. It had the initials "C. D.'' engraved upon it, and was at once identified as Mrs Duncomb's. The linen which Sarah had been handling in Mr Kerrel's drawer was said to be darned in a way recognizable as Mrs Duncomb's. It had lain beside the tankard and the money in the black box.


There was, it will be seen, but very little doubt of Sarah Malcolm's guilt. According to the reports of her trial, however, she fought fiercely for her life, questioning the witnesses closely. Some of them, such as could remember small points against her, but who failed in recollection of the colour of her dress or of the exact number of the coins said to be lost, she vehemently denounced.

One of the Newgate turnkeys told how some of the missing money was discovered. Being brought from the Compter to Newgate, Sarah happened to see a room in which debtors were confined. She asked the turnkey, Roger Johnson, if she could be kept there. Johnson replied that it would cost her a guinea, but that from her appearance it did not look to him as if she could afford so much.

Sarah seems to have bragged then, saying that if the charge was twice or thrice as much she could send for a friend who would pay it. Her attitude probably made the turnkey suspicious. At any rate, after Sarah had mixed for some time with the felons in the prison taproom, Johnson called her out and, lighting the way by use of a link, led her to an empty room.

''Child,'' he said, "there is reason to suspect that you are guilty of this murder, and therefore I have orders to search you.'' He had, he admitted, no such orders. He felt under her arms; whereupon she started and threw back her head. Johnson clapped his hand on her head and felt something hard. He pulled off her cap, and found a bag of money in her hair.

''I asked her,'' Johnson said in the witness-box, "how she came by it, and she said it was some of Mrs Duncomb's money. `But, Mr Johnson,' says she, 'I'll make you a present of it if you will keep it to yourself, and let nobody know anything of the matter. The other things against me are nothing but circumstances, and I shall come well enough off. And therefore I only desire you to let me have threepence or sixpence a day till the sessions be over; then I shall be at liberty to shift for myself.' ''

To the best of his knowledge, said this turnkey, having told the money over, there were twenty moidores, eighteen guineas, five broad pieces, a half-broad piece, five crowns, and two or three shillings. He thought there was also a twenty-five-shilling piece and some others, twenty-three-shilling pieces. He had sealed them up in the bag, and there they were (producing the bag in court).

The court asked how she said she had come by the money.

Johnson's answer was that she had said she took the money and the bag from Mrs Duncomb, and that she had begged him to keep it secret. ''My dear,'' said this virtuous gaoler, ''I would not secrete the money for the world.

"She told me, too,'' runs Johnson's recorded testimony, "that she had hired three men to swear the tankard was her grandmother's, but could not depend on them: that the name of one was William Denny, another was Smith, and I have forgot the third. After I had taken the money away she put a piece of mattress in her hair, that it might appear of the same bulk as before. Then I locked her up and sent to Mr Alstone, and told him the story. 'And,' says I, 'do you stand in a dark place to be witness of what she says, and I'll go and examine her again.'''

Sarah interrupted: "I tied my handkerchief over my hair to hide the money, but Buck,[19] happening to see my hair fall down, he told Johnson; upon which Johnson came to see me and said, `I find the cole's planted in your hair. Let me keep it for you and let Buck know nothing about it.' So I gave Johnson five broad pieces and twenty-two guineas, not gratis, but only to keep for me, for I expected it to be returned when sessions was over. As to the money, I never said I took it from Mrs Duncomb; but he asked me what they had to rap against me. I told him only a tankard. He asked me if it was Mrs Duncomb's, and I said yes.''

[19] Peter Buck, a prisoner.

The Court: "Johnson, were those her words: 'This is the money and bag that I took'?''

Johnson: ''Yes, and she desired me to make away with the bag.''

Johnson's evidence was confirmed in part by Alstone, another officer of the prison. He said he told Johnson to get the bag from the prisoner, as it might have something about it whereby it could be identified. Johnson called the girl, while Alstone watched from a dark corner. He saw Sarah give Johnson the bag, and heard her ask him to burn it. Alstone also deposed that Sarah told him (Alstone) part of the money found on her was Mrs Duncomb's.

There is no need here to enlarge upon the oddly slack and casual conditions of the prison life of the time as revealed in this evidence. It will be no news to anyone who has studied contemporary criminal history. There is a point, however, that may be considered here, and that is the familiarity it suggests on the part of Sarah with prison conditions and with the cant terms employed by criminals and the people handling them.

Sarah, though still in her earliest twenties,[20] was known already--if not in the Temple--to have a bad reputation. It is said that her closest friends were thieves of the worst sort. She was the daughter of an Englishman, at one time a public official in a small way in Dublin. Her father had come to London with his wife and daughter, but on the death of the mother had gone back to Ireland. He had left his daughter behind him, servant in an ale-house called the Black Horse.

[20] Born 1711, Durham, according to The Newgate Calendar.

Sarah was a fairly well-educated girl. At the ale-house, however, she formed an acquaintance with a woman named Mary Tracey, a dissolute character, and with two thieves called Alexander. Of these three disreputable people we shall be hearing presently, for Sarah tried to implicate them in this crime which she certainly committed alone. It is said that the Newgate officers recognized Sarah on her arrival. She had often been to the prison to visit an Irish thief, convicted for stealing the pack of a Scots pedlar.

It will be seen from Sarah's own defence how she tried to implicate Tracey and the two Alexanders:

"I freely own that my crimes deserve death; I own that I was accessory to the robbery, but I was innocent of the murder, and will give an account of the whole affair.

"I lived with Mrs Lydia Duncomb about three months before she was murdered. The robbery was contrived by Mary Tracey, who is now in confinement, and myself, my own vicious inclinations agreeing with hers. We likewise proposed to rob Mr Oakes in Thames Street. She came to me at my master's, Mr Kerrel's chambers, on the Sunday before the murder was committed; he not being then at home, we talked about robbing Mrs Duncomb. I told her I could not pretend to do it by myself, for I should be found out. 'No,' says she, `there are the two Alexanders will help us.' Next day I had seventeen pounds sent me out of the country, which I left in Mr Kerrel's drawers. I met them all in Cheapside the following Friday, and we agreed on the next night, and so parted.

"Next day, being Saturday, I went between seven and eight in the evening to see Mrs Duncomb's maid, Elizabeth Harrison, who was very bad. I stayed a little while with her, and went down, and Mary Tracey and the two Alexanders came to me about ten o'clock, according to appointment.''

On this statement the whole implication of Tracey and the Alexanders by Sarah stands or falls. It falls for the reason that the Temple porter had seen no stranger pass the gate that night, nobody but Templars going to their chambers.

The one fact riddles the rest of Sarah's statement in defence, but, as it is somewhat of a masterpiece in lying invention, I shall continue to quote it. "Mary Tracey would have gone about the robbery just then, but I said it was too soon. Between ten and eleven she said, `We can do it now.' I told her I would go and see, and so went upstairs, and they followed me. I met the young maid on the stairs with a blue mug; she was going for some milk to make a sack posset. She asked me who were those that came after me. I told her they were people going to Mr Knight's below. As soon as she was gone I said to Mary Tracey, `Now do you and Tom Alexander go down. I know the door is ajar, because the old maid is ill, and can't get up to let the young maid in when she comes back.' Upon that, James Alexander, by my order, went in and hid himself under the bed; and as I was going down myself I met the young maid coming up again. She asked me if I spoke to Mrs Betty. I told her no; though I should have told her otherwise, but only that I was afraid she might say something to Mrs Betty about me, and Mrs Betty might tell her I had not been there, and so they might have a suspicion of me.''

There is a possibility that this part of her confession, the tale of having met the young maid, Nanny, may be true.[21] And here may the truth of the murder be hidden away. Very likely it is, indeed, that Sarah encountered the girl going out with the blue mug for milk to make a sack posset, and she may have slipped in by the open door to hide under the bed until the moment was ripe for her terrible intention.

On the other hand, if there is truth in the tale of her encountering the girl again as she returned with the milk--and her cunning in answering ''no'' to the maid's query if she had seen Mrs Betty has the real ring--other ways of getting an entry were open to her. We know that the lock of the vacant chambers opposite Mrs Duncomb's would have yielded to small manipulation. It is not at all unlikely that Sarah, having been charwoman to the old lady, and with the propensities picked up from her Shoreditch acquaintances, had made herself familiar with the locks on the landing.

So that she may have waited her hour in the empty rooms, and have got into Mrs Duncomb's by the same method used by Mrs Oliphant after the murder. She may even have slipped back the spring-catch of the outer door. One account of the murder suggests that she may have asked Ann Price, on one pretext or other, to let her share her bed. It certainly was not beyond the callousness of Sarah Malcolm to have chosen this method, murdering the girl in her sleep, and then going on to finish off the two helpless old women.

[21] This confession, however, varies in several particulars with that contained in A Paper delivered by Sarah Malcolm on the Night before her Execution to the Rev. Mr Piddington, and published by Him (London, 1733).

The truth, as I have said, lies hidden in this extraordinarily mendacious confection. Liars of Sarah's quality are apt to base their fabrications on a structure, however slight, of truth. I continue with the confession, then, for what the reader may get out of it.

"I passed her [Nanny Price] and went down, and spoke with Tracey and Alexander, and then went to my master's chambers, and stirred up the fire. I stayed about a quarter of an hour, and when I came back I saw Tracey and Tom Alexander sitting on Mrs Duncomb's stairs, and I sat down with them. At twelve o'clock we heard some people walking, and by and by Mr Knight came home, went to his room, and shut the door. It was a very stormy night; there was hardly anybody stirring abroad, and the watchmen kept up close, except just when they cried the hour. At two o'clock another gentleman came, and called the watch to light his candle, upon which I went farther upstairs, and soon after this I heard Mrs Duncomb's door open; James Alexander came out, and said, 'Now is the time.' Then Mary Tracey and Thomas Alexander went in, but I stayed upon the stair to watch. I had told them where Mrs Duncomb's box stood. They came out between four and five, and one of them called to me softly, and said, 'Hip! How shall I shut the door?' Says I, ` 'Tis a spring-lock; pull it to, and it will be fast.' And so one of them did. They would have shared the money and goods upon the stairs, but I told them we had better go down; so we went under the arch by Fig-tree Court, where there was a lamp. I asked them how much they had got. They said they had found fifty guineas and some silver in the maid's purse, about one hundred pounds in the chest of drawers, besides the silver tankard and the money in the box and several other things; so that in all they had got to the value of about three hundred pounds in money and goods. They told me that they had been forced to gag the people. They gave me the tankard with what was in it and some linen for my share, and they had a silver spoon and a ring and the rest of the money among themselves. They advised me to be cunning and plant the money and goods underground, and not to be seen to be flush. Then we appointed to meet at Greenwich, but we did not go.[22]

[22] In Mr Piddington's paper the supposed appointment is for ``3 or 4 o'clock at the Pewter Platter, Holbourn Bridge.''

"I was taken in the manner the witnesses have sworn, and carried to the watch-house, from whence I was sent to the Compter, and so to Newgate. I own that I said the tankard was mine, and that it was left me by my mother: several witnesses have swore what account I gave of the tankard being bloody; I had hurt my finger, and that was the occasion of it. I am sure of death, and therefore have no occasion to speak anything but the truth. When I was in the Compter I happened to see a young man[23] whom I knew, with a fetter on. I told him I was sorry to see him there, and I gave him a shilling, and called for half a quartern of rum to make him drink. I afterwards went into my room, and heard a voice call me, and perceived something poking behind the curtain. I was a little surprised, and looking to see what it was, I found a hole in the wall, through which the young man I had given the shilling to spoke to me, and asked me if I had sent for my friends. I told him no. He said he would do what he could for me, and so went away; and some time after he called to me again, and said, `Here is a friend.'

[23] One Bridgewater.

"I looked through, and saw Will Gibbs come in. Says he, 'Who is there to swear against you?' I told him my two masters would be the chief witnesses. 'And what can they charge you with?' says he. I told him the tankard was the only thing, for there was nothing else that I thought could hurt me. 'Never fear, then,' says he; 'we'll do well enough. We will get them that will rap the tankard was your grandmother's, and that you was in Shoreditch the night the act was committed; and we'll have two men that shall shoot your masters. But,' said he, 'one of the witnesses is a woman, and she won't swear under four guineas; but the men will swear for two guineas apiece,' and he brought a woman and three men. I gave them ten guineas, and they promised to wait for me at the Bull Head in Broad Street. But when I called for them, when I was going before Sir Richard Brocas, they were not there. Then I found I should be sent to Newgate, and I was full of anxious thoughts; but a young man told me I had better go to the Whit than to the Compter.

"When I came to Newgate I had but eighteenpence in silver, besides the money in my hair, and I gave eighteenpence for my garnish. I was ordered to a high place in the gaol. Buck, as I said before, having seen my hair loose, told Johnson of it, and Johnson asked me if I had got any cole planted there. He searched and found the bag, and there was in it thirty-six moidores, eighteen guineas, five crown pieces, two half-crowns, two broad pieces of twenty-five shillings, four of twenty-three shillings, and one half-broad piece. He told me I must be cunning, and not to be seen to be flush of money. Says I, `What would you advise me to do with it?' 'Why,' says he, `you might have thrown it down the sink, or have burnt it, but give it to me, and I'll take care of it.' And so I gave it to him. Mr Alstone then brought me to the condemned hold and examined me. I denied all till I found he had heard of the money, and then I knew my life was gone. And therefore I confessed all that I knew. I gave him the same account of the robbers as I have given you. I told him I heard my masters were to be shot, and I desired him to send them word. I described Tracey and the two Alexanders, and when they were first taken they denied that they knew Mr Oakes, whom they and I had agreed to rob.

"All that I have now declared is fact, and I have no occasion to murder three persons on a false accusation; for I know I am a condemned woman. I know I must suffer an ignominious death which my crimes deserve, and I shall suffer willingly. I thank God He has given me time to repent, when I might have been snatched off in the midst of my crimes, and without having an opportunity of preparing myself for another world.'' There is a glibness and an occasional turn of phrase in this confession which suggests some touching up from the pen of a pamphleteer, but one may take it that it is, in substance, a fairly accurate report. In spite of the pleading which threads it that she should be regarded as accessory only in the robbery, the jury took something less than a quarter of an hour to come back with their verdict of "Guilty of murder.'' Sarah Malcolm was sentenced to death in due form.


Having regard to the period in which this confession was made, and considering the not too savoury reputations of Mary Tracey and the brothers Alexander, we can believe that those three may well have thought themselves lucky to escape from the mesh of lies Sarah tried to weave about them.[24] It was not to be doubted on all the evidence that she alone committed that cruel triple murder, and that she alone stole the money which was found hidden in her hair.

The bulk of the stolen clothing was found in her possession, bloodstained. A white-handled case-knife, presumably that used to cut Nanny Price's throat, was seen on a table by the three women who, with Sarah herself, were first on the scene of the murder. It disappeared later, and it is to be surmised that Sarah Malcolm managed to get it out of the room unseen. But to the last moment possible Sarah tried to get her three friends involved with her. Say, which is not at all unlikely, that Tracey and the Alexanders may have first suggested the robbery to her, and her vindictive maneouvring may be understood.

[24] On more than one hand the crime is ascribed to Sarah's desire to secure one of the Alexanders in marriage.

It is said that when she heard that Tracey and the Alexanders had been taken she was highly pleased. She smiled, and said that she could now die happy, since the real murderers had been seized. Even when the three were brought face to face with her for identification she did not lack brazenness. ''Ay,'' she said, "these are the persons who committed the murder.'' "You know this to be true,'' she said to Tracey. ''See, Mary, what you have brought me to. It is through you and the two Alexanders that I am brought to this shame, and must die for it. You all promised me you would do no murder, but, to my great surprise, I found the contrary.''

She was, you will perceive, a determined liar. Condemned, she behaved with no fortitude. "I am a dead woman!'' she cried, when brought back to Newgate. She wept and prayed, lied still more, pretended illness, and had fits of hysteria. They put her in the old condemned hold with a constant guard over her, for fear that she would attempt suicide

The idlers of the town crowded to the prison to see her, for in the time of his Blessed Majesty King George II Newgate, with the condemned hold and its content, composed one of the fashionable spectacles. Young Mr Hogarth, the painter, was one of those who found occasion to visit Newgate to view the notorious murderess. He even painted her portrait.

It is said that Sarah dressed specially for him in a red dress, but that copy--one which belonged to Horace Walpole--which is now in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, shows her in a grey gown, with a white cap and apron. Seated to the left, she leans her folded hands on a table on which a rosary and a crucifix lie. Behind her is a dark grey wall, with a heavy grating over a dark door to the right. There are varied mezzotints of this picture by Hogarth himself still extant, and there is a pen-and-wash drawing of Sarah by Samuel Wale in the British Museum.

The stories regarding the last days in life of Sarah Malcolm would occupy more pages than this book can afford to spend on them. To the last she hoped for a reprieve. After the "dead warrant'' had arrived, to account for a paroxysm of terror that seized her, she said that it was from shame at the idea that, instead of going to Tyburn, she was to be hanged in Fleet Street among all the people that knew her, she having just heard the news in chapel. This too was one of her lies. She had heard the news hours before. A turnkey, pointing out the lie to her, urged her to confess for the easing of her mind.

One account I have of the Tanfield Court murders speaks of the custom there was at this time of the bellman of St Sepulchre's appearing outside the gratings of the condemned hold just after midnight on the morning of executions.[25] This performance was provided for by bequest from one Robert Dove, or Dow, a merchant- tailor. Having rung his bell to draw the attention of the condemned (who, it may be gathered, were not supposed to be at all in want of sleep), the bellman recited these verses:

All you that in the condemned hold do lie,
Prepare you, for to-morrow you shall die.
Watch all and pray; the hour is drawing near
That you before th' Almighty must appear.

Examine well yourselves, in time repent,
That you may not t'eternal flames be sent:
And when St 'Pulchre's bell to-morrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls!
Past twelve o'clock![26]

[25] It was once done by the parish priest. (Stowe's Survey of London, p. 195, fourth edition, 1618.)

[26] The bequest of Dove appears to have provided for a further pious admonition to the condemned while on the way to execution. It was delivered by the sexton of St Sepulchre's from the steps of that church, a halt being made by the procession for the purpose. This admonition, however, was in fair prose.

A fellow-prisoner or a keeper bade Sarah Malcolm heed what the bellman said, urging her to take it to heart. Sarah said she did, and threw the bellman down a shilling with which to buy himself a pint of wine.

Sarah, as we have seen, was denied the honour of procession to Tyburn. Her sentence was that she was to be hanged in Fleet Street, opposite the Mitre Court, on the 7th of March, 1733. And hanged she was accordingly. She fainted in the tumbril, and took some time to recover. Her last words were exemplary in their piety, but in the face of her vindictive lying, unretracted to the last, it were hardly exemplary to repeat them.

She was buried in the churchyard of St Sepulchre's.

She Stands Accused by Victor Macclure



Sarah Malcolm in Prison.
(William Hogarth - 1733. Oil on canvas. National Gallery
of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK)




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