Charles Peace - an infamous Victorian criminal
One the most infamous Victorian criminals
was Charles Peace who was hanged at Armley prison,
Leeds by William Marwood on Monday the 25th of February 1879, "For that I
done but never intended" as Peace put it.
drawing of him.
Peace was a violent career criminal who was born in Sheffield
in May 1832. His first recorded conviction was for house burglary in 1851, for
which he served a month in prison. His next conviction for the same offence
came in October 1854, when he was sentenced to four year’s penal servitude at
Doncaster Sessions. This was followed by a six year sentence in 1859 and an
eight year sentence in 1866. He tried to escape during this but was recaptured
and was to spend the next six years in various prisons up to 1872. On his release he returned to Sheffield. In 1875, Peace moved out of Sheffield
into the suburb of Darnall where he met a Mr. and
Mrs. Arthur Dyson. Peace was a womaniser and began having an affair with Mrs.
Dyson, or at least so he claimed and she denied. She had certainly gone out
with him to music halls and pubs but it seems that she had rejected his sexual
advances and this was something he was not happy about. Peace threatened to
kill Mr. Dyson and he, in turn, took out an injunction against Peace in the
hope of him leaving the couple alone. Peace did for a time, moving to Hull and opening a café.
His burglaries continued and one night he went to Manchester, armed as usual with his revolver.
Peace was spotted by two policemen in the grounds of a house at Whalley
Range, around midnight on
the 1st of August 1876. Constable Cock tried to arrest him but Peace took out
the revolver and told Cock to stand back, firing a warning shot at the officer.
Cock took out his truncheon and advanced towards Peace, who fired a second
time, killing him. Peace was able to escape and get back to Hull. Two local villains, brothers John and
William Habron, were arrested for the crime. Habron was convicted and sentenced to death but fortunately
reprieved to life in prison.
second murder was to be that of Arthur Dyson on the 29th of November 1876,
whose wife he still desired. He went to the Dyson's home at Bannercross
and during an argument shot Mr. Dyson through the head, killing him instantly.
Once again, he was able to escape back to Hull.
He evaded the police but they were on the hunt for him as Mrs. Dyson had been
able to identify him as her husband's killer. A reward was offered for his
capture and he was now the nation's most wanted man moving constantly from one
town to another, eventually ending up in London.
He was to continue to evade capture for over two years. Peace had always had a
love of music and musical instruments and set up as a dealer in them, partially
as a front to his usual business of house burglary. He sometimes carried his
burglary tools in a violin case when he went out on a job. He was able to live
in some style from the proceeds of these activities, with a "Mrs.
Thompson" as his mistress. This married lady's real name was Susan Bailey
and she was eventually the one who betrayed him. His career as a burglar in London lasted from the
beginning of the year 1877 until the 10th of October 1878, when he was finally
caught red handed by three policeman in Blackheath
trying to rob a house. Peace fired several shots at one officer before he was
overpowered. When he was questioned he gave his name as John Ward. Susan
Thompson was also arrested for trying to sell stolen property and identified
Ward as Peace for whom there was a reward out, which she hoped to obtain. An
officer was sent down from Yorkshire and was
able to positively identify Peace in Newgate prison. Peace stood trial at the
Old Bailey in November 1878 on the charges of burglary and attempted murder and
was sentenced to life in prison. However, he had now to answer to the charge of
the murder of Mr. Dyson and so was moved by train to Sheffield,
to be charged with the murder of Arthur Dyson on the 18th of January 1879.
During the journey north, he attempted to escape by throwing himself out of the
train but was quickly recaptured. His trial before Mr. Justice Lopes at Leeds began on the 4th of February 1879. Mrs. Dyson was
to be the principal witness for the Crown and described the murder of her
husband to the court. Forensic evidence was able to show that the bullet which
killed Mr. Dyson was fired from the revolver recovered from Peace when he was
arrested in London.
Late in the afternoon the jury retired and took just 10 minutes to convict
The Times newspaper reported that since Franz Muller murdered Mr. Briggs on the
North London Railway and the poisonings by William Palmer, no criminal case had
created such excitement in the public mind as that of Charles Peace.
visited in the condemned cell by the vicar of Darnall,
the Rev. J. H. Littlewood to whom he made an oral
confession to the murder of PC Cock. As a result William Habron
was given a pardon and £800 compensation. Peace’s hanging was scheduled for 8
a.m. on Tuesday the 25th of February 1879 and was attended by four newspaper
reporters. A four foot deep pit had been excavated beneath the scaffold, set up
in one of the prison’s yard, some 80 yds. away from the condemned cell. Peace was pinioned and escorted by two
warders from the pinioning room to the gallows.
The procession was led by the governor, Mr. Keene and the Under Sheriff,
Mr. Gray, followed by the chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Cookson, and then Peace and
the warders with Marwood walking behind them and several pairs of warders
behind him. Once they reached the
gallows Peace ascended the flight of steps onto the platform unaided, where
Marwood pinioned his legs and placed the noose around his neck. As Marwood attempted to place the white hood
over Peace's head, he asked for a glass of water (which was refused) and spoke
to the journalists, which he was allowed to do before Marwood pulled the lever.
His last words were reported to be "My last thoughts are for children and
their mother, a wonderful woman, they mustn't worry
about me I know where I am going. I am going to Heaven." Marwood gave Peace a drop of about nine feet
and death was reported to have been “virtually instantaneous”, according to Mr.
Price, the gaol surgeon. The black flag
was run up to show the small crowd outside the prison that the execution had
taken place. Peace’s body was left to
hang for one hour before being taken down and prepared for the inquest which
took place at 11 a.m. After the formal
verdict had been delivered, it was buried within the precincts of the prison.
tableau of Peace and Marwood soon appeared in Madame Tussauds
waxworks, depicting the execution scene (pictured here). Mrs. Dyson emigrated
to Cleveland Ohio,
in the USA
at the conclusion of the case.
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