Executed for the Murder of a Wealthy Old Lady in the Inns of Court, 7th of March, 1733
The Execution of Sarah Malcolm
THIS unhappy young woman, who at the period of her death was only twenty-two years of age, was born of respectable parents, in the county of Durham, in the year 1711; but her father having, through his extravagance, spent the whole of the property which he possessed, she was at length compelled to resort to what is commonly called servitude, for the means of subsistence. In this condition for several years she conducted herself extremely well; but at length, being employed at the Black Horse, a low public-house in Boswell Court, near Temple Bar, which had been constantly the notorious resort of persons of bad character, she formed connections of no very creditable class, by whom she was led on to her ruin. Having at length quitted the Black Horse she was recommended as a laundress to take charge of chambers in the Inns of Court; and amongst those for whom she there worked was a Mrs Lydia Duncomb, a lady nearly eighty years of age, who occupied a set of chambers in the Temple; Elizabeth Harrison, aged sixty, and Ann Price, aged seventeen, living with her in the capacity of servants. This lady being reputed to be very rich, a scheme was formed by Sarah Malcolm of robbing her chambers; her object being, it was supposed, by the acquisition of wealth, to make herself a fitting match for a young man named Alexander, who she hoped would marry her.
The night of Saturday, 3rd of February, 1733, was fixed upon by her for the commission of the robbery, and Martha Tracy, a woman of light character, her paramour, Alexander, and his brother, were to be her assistants in the execution of the project. Malcolm, by means of her acquaintance with the chambers, obtained possession of the keys of the outer door in the course of the day, and at night the robbery was effected, but with it the murder also of Mrs Duncomb and her servants Harrison and Price. On the Sunday morning some surprise was excited on its being observed that none of Mrs Duncomb's family was to be seen; and at length, as the day advanced, great alarm was exhibited, and suspicions were entertained that all was not right. Mrs Love, Mrs Rhymer and Mrs Oliphant, friends of Mrs Duncomb, assembled in the afternoon at the door of her chambers, in obedience to an invitation which they had received to dinner; but being unable to gain admittance by knocking, they at length determined to force an entrance. One of the windows was resorted to for this purpose, to which access was obtained from a neighbouring set of chambers; and then, on Mrs Oliphant going into Mrs Duncomb's bedroom, the old lady was found there strangled, while her servant Harrison was discovered in an adjoining apartment also strangled, and the girl Price was seen lying on her bed with her throat cut from ear to ear. The news of this diabolical crime soon became published through the neighbourhood; and on the chambers of the deceased being examined it was found that they had been stripped of all the valuables which could be easily carried away, consisting of money, silver and plate, and other articles of a similar description. In the course of the day some circumstances transpired tending to fix the suspicions of the police upon the woman Malcolm; and, upon her lodgings being searched, a silver tankard, the handle of which was covered with blood, was found concealed in a close-stool. She was in consequence taken into custody, and having undergone an examination on the following day, before the magistrates, she was committed to Newgate. Upon her entering the jail she was searched by Johnson, one of the turnkeys, who took from her a considerable sum of money in gold and silver coin, and she admitted to him that it was Mrs Duncomb's. "But," added she, "I'll make you a present of it if you will say nothing of the matter." The jailer took possession of the money, but produced it to his superior officers, acquainting them with the conversation which had passed.
In the course of the subsequent imprisonment of the unhappy woman she frequently conversed with Johnson upon the subject of the murder, and admitted that she had arranged the robbery, although she declared that she had nothing to do with putting Mrs Duncomb and her servants to death. She asserted that two men and a woman were concerned with her, and that she watched on the stairs while they entered the chambers. At her trial, when called on for her defence, she made a similar declaration, and stated that Tracy and the two Alexanders were her companions; but she still persisted in her allegation of her ignorance of the murder until it was discovered by Mrs Oliphant on the day after it was committed. A verdict of guilty was, however, returned, and the wretched woman was ordered for execution.
After her conviction she evinced the most sincere penitence, but still persisted in her refusal to confess herself guilty of the whole crime with which she was charged. Upon the bellman coming to her in the customary manner she attended anxiously to what he said, and at the conclusion of his address threw him a shilling to buy wine.
On the morning of execution, 7th of March, 1733, she appeared more composed than she had been for some time past, and seemed to join in prayers with the ordinary, and another gentleman who attended, with much sincerity. When in the cart she wrung her hands and wept most bitterly.
At the place of execution, near Fetter Lane, she behaved with the utmost devoutness and resignation to the Divine will; but when the ordinary, in his prayers, recommended her soul to God she fainted, and with much difficulty recovered her senses. On the cart driving off she turned towards the Temple, crying 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.