The Newgate Calendar - JAMES COOK

Executed 10th of August, 1832, for the Murder of Mr Paas, whose Remains he attempted to destroy by Fire.

            This diabolical murder of which Cook was guilty, attracted a very considerable portion of the public attention.

            Mr. Paas, it appears, was a respectable tradesman carrying on a business at No.44, High Holborn, London, as a manufacturer of such brass instruments as are used by bookbinders. Cook, his murderer, was a bookbinder at Leicester. Mr. Paas was in the habit of taking occasional journeys in the way of business, and in the course of his travels Cook became his customer, and ordered goods of him to the extent of about 20l. Cook at this time was twenty-one years of age, and he had only recently entered upon the business of his deceased master in a small yard leading out of Wellington-street, Leicester, upon his own account. In the month of May 1832, the usual period of credit had expired, and Mr. Paas wrote to Cook saying, that he should visit Leicester in a few days, when he hoped to receive the amount of his bill. On Wednesday, May the 30th, Mr. Paas accordingly arrived in Leicester, and put up at the Stag and Pheasant Inn. In the afternoon he quitted that house, and proceeded upon his rounds for the purpose of collecting the accounts due to him in the town. He called at several places, and amongst others at the house of Cook; but after leaving there, he was seen by one of his customers, of whom he made inquiries as to Cook's solvency, and whom he informed that he had already called upon him to pay an account, and that he had been requested to call again in the evening. Mr. Paas was not seen alive again after this; and the result showed that he had been wilfully and most diabolically murdered by his customer and debtor.

            The only proof by which the unfortunate gentleman was traced to the workshop of Cook was that of his apprentice boy, Charles Wilkinson, aged fourteen years. He was at the shop of his master on the afternoon of Wednesday, and he saw a person come there, whose appearance, from his description, agreed with that of Mr. Paas. Immediately on his being seen by his master, he told him (Wilkinson) that he might go away and remain at home until he called for him -- a circumstance quite unusual, and rendered the more remarkable from the great quantity of work which his master then had to do.

            The circumstances attending the discovery of the murder, and the consequent apprehension of Cook, are of an extraordinary and interesting nature. The workshop which he occupied, it appears, was situated over a cow-house in the occupation of a Mr. Sawbridge, a milkman. On the evening of Wednesday, the 30th of May, a very large fire was observed to be blazing in his workshop; but as considerable heat was known to be occasionally necessary to be employed in his trade, no notice was taken of the occurrence. At about eight o'clock Cook visited the Flying Horse, a beer-shop in the immediate neighbourhood of his workroom, and having called for some drink, and played a game of skittles with an undisturbed aspect, he requested change of a sovereign. The landlord, Mr. Nokes, produced the coin necessary, and Cook on giving him the sovereign took from his pocket a silk purse containing money to a very considerable amount in gold, silver, and notes. This excited some surprise, but no remark was made, and Cook went away returning apparently to his workshop. After a short time, however, he went to Mrs. Sawbridge, and told her that he should work during the night in order to finish some articles which he had in hand, and desired her therefore not to be frightened if she should see that he had a fire. At half-past ten o'clock he returned to his workshop, being let in by Sawbridge; and from that hour until half-past four o'clock on the next morning nothing was seen of him, although it was evident that he remained in his room, as he was unable to quit the premises without the knowledge of his landlord. A strong light was observed in his workshop, and he was heard occasionally moving about, both in the house and in the yard; but although his father went to look for him and to inquire into the cause of his unexpected absence from home during the night, he made no answer.

            At half-past four o'clock Sawbridge rose for the purpose of milking his cows. He found his tenant still in his workshop, attired in his usual working clothes, and apparently employed at his trade of bookbinding. Cook inquired whether he was going to milk his cows, and he answered that he was, at a place called Stoney-gate House, about four miles off on the London road. Cook declared that he felt faint and sick after sitting up all night, and that he should like a walk to refresh himself; and having locked his room, he walked away to the fields in company with his landlord and a man named Sumpter, who joined them. They talked upon indifferent subjects, and Cook employed himself in keeping the cows together, while Sawbridge milked them in succession; and then they walked back to Wellington-street, the former re-entering his own workshop, while the latter proceeded to his ordinary occupation of carrying out the milk.

            On Thursday evening the murder was discovered. At about ten o'clock the appearance of an unusual degree of light in the workshop of Cook attracted observation, and the neighbours having assembled, fears were expressed that the premises had caught fire. The window-blinds were down, and from without no distinct information could be obtained of the existence or non-existence of any conflagration, and an entrance to the building was in consequence determined on. Mr. Timson, a broker residing within two doors, was the person by whom the performance of this work was undertaken, and reaching the top of the stairs leading to Cook's workshop, he burst open the door, and immediately entered that apartment. He found that the fire which had been kindled in the grate was extended far beyond its usual bounds, and a large piece of flesh was on the top of it burning. The flesh was taken off and put on the floor, and then the fire was raked out and extinguished. Many persons had by this time reached the spot, and great curiosity was expressed to know the nature of the flesh which had been found, as well as the reason for consuming it. Many declared their impression that it was horse-flesh; but Cook was sent for, in order that he might explain the mysterious and suspicious circumstances attending its discovery. He was found at his father's house undressed, and apparently about to retire to rest; but on his being informed of the nature of the inquiry which was proceeding, he immediately dressed himself, and accompanied the messenger who had been despatched in search of him to Wellington-street. On his way thither, he asked with great anxiety whether the flesh which had been found was scorched all over; and being answered in the negative, he exhibited much agitation. He, however, afterwards learned the nature of the supposition of its discoverers of its being horse-flesh, and appeared more easy. On his reaching Wellington-street he was questioned upon the subject of the flesh, and his answers showed the facility with which he was able to coin plausible excuses for the act of which he had been guilty. He declared that the flesh was horse-flesh, and that he had bought it for the purpose of feeding a dog, for the purchase of which he had been bargaining; but he added, that the owner of the dog having refused to allow him to become its purchaser, and the meat having become partially putrescent, he had determined to burn it to get rid of it. He was told that he had nearly set the house on fire in his exertions; when his answer was, "Well, it 's all out now, so let us lock the door and go." In answer to further inquiries, he said, that he had purchased the flesh of a man, whose name he did not know, in the Humberstone-gate. The circumstances which had been ascertained, however, aided by the discovery of an attempt on the part of Cook to conceal his proceedings in his workshop by pasting thick paper over his windows, tended to attach considerable suspicion to his conduct in the transaction, and Measures, a constable, having arrived on the spot, he deemed it to be his duty to take him into custody. An undefinable terror appeared to pervade the minds of all upon the subject of the flesh which had been found, but none could fix any idea even in their own minds as to the real nature of the occurrence which excited at once their alarm and suspicion. The flesh was taken by Measures to his own house for better security, and his prisoner was conveyed by him at once to the mayor's office. Here, however, a difficulty presented itself. The mayor could not be found, and the constable was driven to act upon his own authority and responsibility. From his acquaintance with Cook he knew him to be a person to whom a good general character attached, and he was unwilling upon suspicions so vague as those which were entertained to lock him up all night. He, therefore, informed him, that if he could procure good bail for his appearance on the next day, to answer any charge which might be preferred, he would liberate him; and his father having become responsible for his reproduction when he should be required, he was at once discharged out of custody.

            On the following day he was sent for by the mayor, with a view to his examination upon the subject of the discoveries of the preceding night, but he had absconded.

            The suspicions already entertained were now still further excited, and a surgical examination of the piece of flesh was determined upon. Its result was the expression of the belief of Messrs. Denton, and others, surgeons, that it was part of a human body!

            Instant minute inquiries were set on foot with a view to its being ascertained whether any person was missing from the town; and the non-return of Mr. Paas to his inn at once led to a belief that he had fallen a victim to the barbarous machinations of Cook, and that he had been murdered, and his remains thus mutilated and consumed. A universal sensation of horror was created as this idea gained ground, and evidence confirming the general impression was soon obtained upon an examination of the premises of the supposed murderer. In the chimney of his workshop was found all that remained unburnt or unscorched of the body of the unfortunate Mr. Paas. Two thighs and a leg, separated from each other and from the main trunk of the body apparently with great determination by a knife and a saw, were found suspended from a nail by a cord, in the chimney, about a yard and a half above the fireplace, evidently awaiting only the favourable opportunity when they too might be consumed, and so all trace of the murder be destroyed. In the room were also discovered the leg of a pair of black trousers, covered with blood, together with a snuff-box, an eye-glass, a pencil-case, with the letter "P" engraved on it, and some fragments of cloth, much stained with blood. Among the ashes were found the horrible remains of the deceased, in the shape of calcined bones; but there was also discovered a gaiter, of a description known to have been worn by Mr. Paas. The floor of the room had evidently been recently scraped and scoured; but evident marks of some dark fluid having flown over it were still visible. Other evidence, presented by the discoveries in this room, pointed out the mode of the death of the deceased, and the method in which his body had been cut in pieces, in order the more readily to be burned. On the table was seen a bill, in the name of Mr. Paas, on Cook for 12s.; and at the foot of this instrument was the word "settled," followed by the two letters "J. P." It had been the habit of Mr. Paas invariably to sign his name in full to such receipts, and in this instance it appeared as if he had not intended to depart from his custom, but that having reached the completion of the letter P, he had received a severe blow, by which the pen in his hand had been driven in a direction across the preceding letter "J," a deep and heavily pressed ink-mark being perceptible on the paper, as if such had been the case. The instrument of attack was discovered, in a heavy species of hammer used by bookbinders in their trade.

            A new and minute examination of the fireplace proved that the murderer had not so far succeeded in his object of destroying the body of his victim as was at first supposed. A misshapen and most unsightly mass of matter, which no one would have supposed, upon an ordinary inspection, could ever have formed any portion of the human frame, was found among the cinders; and upon its being submitted to the scrutiny of surgeons, it was declared by them to be the lower part of the abdomen, and a part of the thighs of the human body; but all was dreadfully disfigured by the action of the fire, and it was evident that large collops of flesh had been cut from it, with a view apparently to its more speedy destruction and disfigurement. The fireplace was found to have been in some degree enlarged by the removal of one or two bricks; and across the top of it were to be seen two bars of iron, placed there so as to serve as a gridiron, on which the flesh might be placed in its progress of consumption. No trace of the trunk of the body or the head of the deceased, however, could be found, and it became the general impression that these had been removed, and had been buried somewhere in the outskirts of the town.

            These new discoveries at once fixed the identity of the deceased, and the fact of his having been murdered, with intelligence of the melancholy occurrence, was immediately conveyed to the friends of the unhappy gentleman, in London, together with an intimation of the flight of the murderer. The feelings excited by such a communication to Mrs. Paas and her family were of a nature to be more easily imagined than described; but the firm of Barker, Denton, and Choffin, attorneys of Gray's Inn, was at once called upon to take the necessary steps to secure the apprehension and conviction of Cook. Mr. Barker, in consequence, applied immediately at Bow-street for the assistance of the metropolitan police-officers, and a warrant was at once issued, and placed in the hands of an officer for execution. A reward of 100l. was also offered for the apprehension of Cook, and every step was taken by which it could be hoped to bring him to justice.

            On Sunday the 3rd of June, an inquest was held upon the remains of deceased, at the Dog and Gun, in the Market-street, Leicester. The facts which we have detailed were then proved in evidence, and the additional testimony of a person named George Cooke, living at Loughborough, and occasionally driving the coach between that place and Manchester, was obtained, which tended to confirm the suspicions entertained against Cook, and at the same time to exhibit the line which he had taken in his endeavours to escape from the pursuing hand of justice. Cooke stated that on the previous Friday morning, at a quarter after five o'clock, he was in the stable-yard of the Black Horse Inn, at Loughborough, when he saw a person who was a stranger (but who was now known to be Cook, from the description given of his appearance) conversing with the stable-boy. He appeared dirty, as if he had been up all night and in the roads; but as it was fair-time, he concluded that he had been larking, and did not take much notice of the circumstance. The witness joined in the conversation, and presently the stranger produced a small brooch from his shirt-front, which he said he had picked up. He expressed a wish to sell it, and the witness finally bought it for two shillings. The man afterwards produced a silver watch, with a gold chain and seals, which he said his father had purchased for him for 40l.; and then he declared his desire to procure change for a 5l. or a 10l. note. He brought a green silk purse from his pocket, and took a note of each denomination from a number of papers which it contained, and at the same time exhibited a large sum of money in gold. The witness endeavoured to procure change for him, but could not, and left him. He subsequently learned that the man had gone on by coach and railroad to Liverpool. The brooch was produced by the witness, and it was instantly recognised by several friends of the deceased gentleman to be one which he had constantly worn, and which he had received as a mourning token upon the death of a friend named Mancell.

            Upon this testimony the jury returned a verdict, that the remains which had been discovered were those of Mr. Paas, and that he had been wilfully murdered by James Cook.

            A few days sufficed to bring this atrocious malefactor to justice. Cummins, an officer of Leicester, had started in pursuit of him, and he succeeded in apprehending him on Tuesday on the point of joining a vessel just sailing from Liverpool for America. It had been ascertained by this active officer, that the object of his search had made for Liverpool; and he entertained little doubt that his intention was to reach one of the vessels which was then about to sail for America, after their quitting the harbour. For the purpose of more easily watching the anticipated movements of his prey, he and his assistant stationed themselves on the Chester side of the river Mersey, and, with a boat and crew always ready, remained anxiously awaiting the anticipated necessity for exertion. A constant look-out enabled them to criticise the appearance of every boat which put out, and their watch did not extend to a very long one. To the disgrace of the watermen of Liverpool, there were to be found among them men who, for adequate remuneration, were always ready and willing to succour those who were flying from punishment -- no matter what their crimes might be -- by carrying them off to the ships which should be lying in the channel, outward-bound. Cook had succeeded in procuring the aid of a crew of these men, and, at an early hour on Tuesday morning, the 5th of June, he put off from the shore. The movements of the party did not escape the vigilant observation of Cummins and his well-experienced assistants, and their object soon became apparent. They were allowed to get well out to sea, however, before any effort was made to pursue them; but then Cummins, with his active crew, immediately started in pursuit. They gained rapidly on the small boat in which the object of their search was; but he, finding himself in danger of being secured, at once ordered his men to make for the shore. They had already reached the shallow water, when the pursuing boat came close astern. Cook, who appeared frantic with desperation, jumped overboard, with an intention to drown himself; but the water was too shallow for his purpose, and finding himself disappointed in this object, he drew a phial from his pocket, the contents of which he was about to drink, when, however, his hand was seized by Cummins, and so forcibly compressed that the bottle was broken, and its liquid contents, whatever they may have been, lost in the sea. The wretched man was now secured by the officers and conveyed to Liverpool, and he there immediately underwent an examination before the magistrates of that city. The nature of the charge was stated, and his identity having been proved, he was at once ordered to be conveyed to Leicester.

            At his own request, he was allowed to remain at the Bridewell that night; but on the following morning he was carried back to the scene of his diabolical crime by coach, in custody of five constables. On his way he exhibited the utmost levity, and frequently laughed at the people who came out of their houses to catch a glimpse of him as he passed by. He ate and drank heartily, and requested, at almost every stoppage, to be supplied with brandy-and-water and cigars -- a demand which was complied with. The coach did not arrive at Leicester until near ten o'clock; but the streets were, even at that hour, crowded with persons looking for his coming. He was safely lodged in jail, without any disturbance taking place.

            From the moment of his apprehension he made no attempt to deny that Mr. Paas had fallen by his hands; but he sought to palliate his offence by asserting that that gentleman had attacked him first with one of the implements of his trade, in consequence of his refusal to pay him a bill which he owed him. He declared that he paid him the twelve shillings on his first visit, and denied most positively that he had any previous intention to commit the murder.

            At a meeting of the borough magistrates of Leicester, at the town-jail, on Thursday afternoon, Cook was brought before them for the purpose of affording him an opportunity of making any disclosure or explanation he might see fit.

            Mr. Burbidge, the town-clerk, addressed him, and said that he was not bound to say anything to criminate himself.

            The prisoner, after a short pause, replied in substance and words nearly as follows:-- "I am innocent of wilful murder, and my conscience is not burdened in the manner that you gentlemen seem to suppose. Mr. Paas called on me in the morning, but what morning I cannot exactly say, my agitation of mind has been so great ever since. I paid him a bill of twelve shillings. There were two bills due. The other was for a larger sum. Mr. Paas wrote "Settled" on the twelve-shillings bill, and I told him I would strive to pay part of the other if he called again in the evening. Mr. Paas did call in the evening, but I was not able to give him anything. He was angry, and I was angry; disagreeable words took place, and a scuffle ensued, and in this manner I was brought to this shameful and disgraceful end."

            Mr. Burbidge said they had reason to suppose that the upper part of the body had been moved from the premises, and probably buried, and they understood he had admitted as much to one of the constables. The prisoner, after hesitating a short time, said he would consider of it. In addition to the above, the prisoner had previously told the constables that, during the scuffle, Mr. Paas had thrown the great hammer at his head, and that it struck his shoulder, and that in the heat of the moment he snatched up the press-pin (a strong iron bar), and hit him with it on the back of the neck, and he fell dead instantly.

            On Friday morning the prisoner was visited in his cell by Mr. Burbidge, accompanied by the governor of the jail and his son. He was found reading and extracting from one of the many religious books with which he had been supplied. Mr. Burbidge asked him whether he was willing to tell what he had done with the trunk of the body. The prisoner replied, "I know I shall suffer, and as there is a just God, I burnt the whole of it; but how I did it, I can hardly tell."

            Mr. Burbidge asked when he burned it? He replied, "In the course of Wednesday night." Mr. Burbidge then asked how he did it; and he said that he cut it up into fragments, and so placed them on the fire. Mr. Burbidge told him that he had been informed by surgeons that it would be impossible for him to destroy the lungs by any ordinary fire. The prisoner, in a composed but melancholy tone, replied, "Ah, sir, they never tried the experiment." Mr. Burbidge next observed, that he was given to understand that it was impossible to destroy the intestines by fire, without their causing a stench that would be smelt all round the neighbourhood. The prisoner, in answer, said, "I know nothing about that, sir; it was a very stormy night, and a great deal of rain fell -- perhaps that may account for it." Mr. Burbidge asked, if his story were true, how he could explain the circumstance of no remains of the bones of the skull or trunk being found? The prisoner replied, that they were all burned so that he could crush them with his foot easily. He added, placing the fingers of his right hand upon the palm of his left, "I could mash them thus."

            Mr. Burbidge asked how he could think of such a horrible mode of disposing of the body? The prisoner answered, "What was I to do with it, sir? the dreadful deed had been committed: I must get rid of it some way, and I had no other mode of disposing of it." Mr. Burbidge observed to him, that if he had cut up the body as he had stated, a great flow of blood must have taken place, and yet there were very few marks of blood on the floor: how did he account for that?, In answer, the prisoner said he had first strewn the floor thickly with hay and straw, which he afterwards collected and burned.

            This gives the substance of the various statements made by the prisoner, although he was repeatedly questioned upon the subject of the murder; and, on the 9th of June, he was committed to take his trial.

            The remains of Mr. Paas having been conveyed to his late residence in Holborn, they were, on the 11th of June, carried to their last resting-place, followed by a host of mourning friends.

            During the subsequent imprisonment of Cook in Leicester jail, preparatory to his trial, every means was adopted in order to procure from him some further confirmation or contradiction of the statement which he had made with respect to the disposal of the head and body of Mr. Paas, the recovery of which, if they had not been really destroyed, would naturally have afforded considerable satisfaction to the friends of the deceased. All the efforts which were used, however, failed; and the prisoner contented himself with persisting in the truth of the story which he had already told. He answered all inquiries with the greatest composure, and appeared full aware that his fate in this world was sealed. With regard to the money which he had taken from Mr. Paas, he asserted that it amounted only to between 50l. and 60l., 30l. of which was in notes, while the remainder of the amount was in sovereigns.

            On Wednesday, August the 7th, the prisoner was put upon his trial at the Leicester assizes, charged with the wilful murder of his victim. The indictment alleged the murder to have been committed in various ways, in order to meet all the circumstances of the case.

            The prisoner, on being called upon to plead, confessed himself guilty of the offence imputed to him. He declared that he was fully acquainted with the effect of his plea, and declined to withdraw it.

            Sentence of death was then immediately pronounced by the presiding judge; and in order that the heinous nature of the crime of the prisoner should be more especially marked, he ordered that his body should be gibbeted in chains after his execution.

            On the following Friday, 10th of August, the first part of the sentence was carried into effect, the convict being hanged in front of the jail at Leicester. His demeanour subsequent to his trial was in nowise altered, but partook of the same degree of calmness for which it had been previously remarkable. At his execution he was respectably attired in a black coat and waistcoat, and white duck trousers. He betrayed but slight symptoms of emotion, and met his fate with becoming resignation.

            Previously to his execution he made a confession of the circumstances of the murder more in detail than those which he had previously delivered. He said that he had had the murder in contemplation for a week before its commission; and that the visit of Mr. Paas to his workshop on the fatal 30th of May, was deemed by him to present a favourable opportunity for completing his sanguinary design. When Mr. Paas entered his shop on the evening of that day, he shut the door, and he then paid him the amount of a small bill in which he was indebted to him. Mr. Paas had receipted the bill, and, having risen from his seat at the table, was examining the binding of a book which lay on the press, when he conceived that the favourable moment had arrived. Taking up the press-pin (a heavy iron instrument), he walked behind his victim, and struck him a tremendous blow on the back of his head. The unfortunate gentleman raised his hands to his head, and staggering towards the door, cried out, "Murder" as loud as his voice, enfeebled by the attack which had been made on him, would allow; but his assailant, now terror-struck, followed up the blow which he had already dealt with others of equal severity on the top of his head. The third stroke was sufficient; and the unfortunate victim of his crime fell heavily to the ground. Turning on his back, his arms were convulsed for a few moments, when they ceased to move, and "all was over." His murderer now retired from the room, and locked the door, but returned again at night to dispose of the body. On his entering the workshop he stumbled over his victim, and his nerves were dreadfully shaken by this circumstance; but speedily getting rid of his alarm, he commenced the work of cutting up the body, and recovered his usual firmness; and so completely was he restored, that he declared that he could have continued the horrible occupation in which he was engaged for a much longer time than he did, if he had deemed it necessary to do so. He then declared, as a dying man, that he had consumed by fire every particle of the body and clothes of the deceased gentleman, except those parts which had been found; and he stated that pride had driven him to commit the crime, and that he was desirous of procuring money, in order to embark for America. he alluded, with seeming horror, to a connexion which he had formed with a society of young men, who professed Deism, in Leicester, and at whose meetings the works of Tom Paine, Carlile, and others, were read; and emphatically added, "Until I got connected with these persons, attending as I did some place of religious worship three times every Sunday, I considered myself a moral young man; but my heart was changed by their example."

            When the body of the convict had hung the usual time after his execution, it was cut down and conveyed back to the jail, in order that the necessary preparations might be made to carry out that portion of the sentence which directed his remains to be gibbeted in chains. The head was shaved and tarred, to preserve it from the action of the weather; and the cap in which he had suffered, was drawn over his face. On Saturday afternoon his body, attired as at the time of his execution, having been firmly fixed in the irons necessary to keep the limbs together, was carried to the place of its intended suspension in Saffron-lane, not far from the Aylestone Toll-gate, a short distance out of the town of Leicester. A gallows, thirty-three feet in height, had been already erected; and the horrible burden which it was intended to bear was soon attached to it. On the following day, thousands of persons were attracted to the spot, to view this novel but most barbarous exhibition; and considerable annoyance was felt by persons residing in the neighbourhood of the dreadful scene. Representations were, in consequence, made to the authorities, and on the following Tuesday morning, instructions were received from the Home Office, directing the removal of the gibbet, and granting the remission of that portion of the sentence, by which this exposure, the remnant only of a barbarous age, was required. These orders were immediately obeyed; and the body was subsequently buried in Leicester.


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