THIS malefactor was born at Sedan, in France; but his parents being Protestants, quitted that kingdom, in consequence of an edict of Lewis the Fourteenth, and settled in Dutch Brabant.
Young Houssart's father placed him with a barber-surgeon at Amsterdam, with whom he lived a consderable time, and then served as a surgeon on board a Dutch ship, which he quitted through want of health, and came to England. He had been a considerable time in this country when he became acquainted with Ann Rondeau, whom he married at the French church in Spitalfields. Having lived about three years with his wife at Hoxton, he left her with disgust, and going into the city, passed for a. single man, working as a barber and hair-dresser; and getting acquainted with a Mrs. Herb, of Prince's-street, Lothbury, he married her at St. Antholin's church.
No sooner was the ceremony performed, than the company went to drink some wine at an adjacent tavern, when the parish clerk observed that Houssart changed countenance, and some of the company asked him if he repented his bargain; to which he answered in the negative.
It appears as if, even at this time, he had come to a resolution. of murdering his first wife; for he had not been long married before his second charging him with a former matrimonial connexion, he desired her to be easy, for she would be convinced, in a short time, that he had no other wife but herself.
During this interval his first wife lived with her mother in Swan-alley, Shoreditch, and Mrs. Houssart being in an ill state of health, her husband called upon her about a fortnight before the perpetration of the murder, and told her he would bring her something to relieve her: and the next day he gave her a medicine that had the appearance of conserve of roses, which threw her into such severe convulsion fits, that her life was despaired of for some hours; but at length she recovered.
This scheme failing, Houssart determined to murder her, to effect which, and conceal the crime, he took the following method:
Having directed his second wife to meet him at the Turk's Head in Bishopsgate-street, she went thither and waited for him. In the mean time he dressed himself in a white great coat, and walked out with a cane in his hand, and a sword by his side. Going to the end of Swan-alley, Shoreditch, he gave a boy a penny to go into the lodgings of his first wife, and her mother, Mrs. Rondeau, and tell the old woman that a gentleman wanted to speak with her at the Black Dog in Bishopsgate-street.
Mrs. Rondeau saying she would wait on the gentleman, Houssart hid himself in the alley, till, the boy told him she was gone out, and then went to his wife's room and cut her throat with a razor, and thus murdered, she was found by her mother on her return from the Black Dog, after enquiring in vain for the gentleman who was said to be waiting for her.
In the interim Houssart went to his other wife at the Turk's Head, where he appeared much dejected, and had some sudden starts of passion. The landlady of the house, who was at supper with his wife, expressing some surprise at his behaviour, he became more calm, and said he was only uneasy lest her husband should return, and find him so meanly dressed; and soon after this Houssart and his wife went home.
Mrs. Rondeau having found her daughter murdered, as above-mentioned, went to her son, to whom she communicated the affair: and he having heard that Houssart lodged in Lothbury, took a constable, went thither, and said he was come to apprehend him on suspicion of having murdered his wife; on which he laughed loudly, and asked if any thing in his looks indicated that he could he guilty of such a crime.
Being committed to Newgate, he was tried at the next sessions at the Old Bailey, but acquitted for want of the evidence of the boy, who was not found till a considerable time afterwards: but the court ordered the prisoner to remain in Newgate to take his trial for bigamy.
In consequence hereof he was indicted at the next sessions, when full proof was brought of both his marriages; but an objection was made by his counsel, on a point of law, "Whether he could be guilty of bigamy, as the first marriage was performed by a French minister, and he was only once married according to the form of the church of England." On this the jury brought in a special verdict, subject to the determination of the twelve judges.
While Houssart lay in Newgate waiting this solemn award, the boy whom he had employed to go into the house of Mrs. Rondeau, and who had hitherto kept secret the whole transaction, being in conversation with his mother, asked her what would become of the boy if he should be apprehended. The mother told him he would be only sworn to tell the truth. "Why (said he) I thought they would hang him:" but the mother satisfying him that there was no danger of any such consequence, and talking farther with him on the subject, he confessed that he was the boy who went with the message.
Hereupon he was taken to Solomon Rondeau, brother of the deceased, who went with him to a justice of peace, and the latter ordered a constable to attend him to New-gate, where he fixed on Houssart as the person who had employed him in the manner above-mentioned.
In consequence hereof, Solomon Rondeau lodged an appeal against the prisoner; but it appearing that there was some bad Latin in it, no proceedings could be had thereon; and therefore another appeal was lodged the next sessions, when the prisoner urging that he was not prepared for his trial, he was yet indulged till a subsequent sessions.
The appeal was brought in the name of Solomon Rondeau, as heir to the deceased; and the names John Doe and Richard Roe were entered in the common form, as pledges to prosecute.
When, the trial came on, the counsel for the prisoner stated the following pleas, in bar to, and abatement of, the proceedings: --
I. That besides the appeal, to which he now pleaded, there was another yet depending, and undetermined.
II. A misnomer, because his name was not Lewis but Louis.
III. That the addition of labourer was wrong, for he was not a labourer, but, a barber-surgeon.
IV. That there were no such persons as John Doe and Richard Roe, who were mentioned as pledges in the appeal.
V. That Henry Rondeau was the brother and heir to the deceased; that Solomon Rondeau was not her brother and heir, and therefore was not the proper appellant; and
VI. That the defendant was not guilty of the facts charged in the appeal.
The counsel for the appellant replied to these several pleas in substance as follows:--
To the first that the former appeal was already quashed, and therefore could not be depending and undetermined.
To the second, that it appeared that the prisoner had owned to the name of Lewis, by pleading to it on two indictments, the one for bigamy and the other for murder; and his hand-writing was produced, in which he had spelt his name Lewis; and it was likewise proved that he had usually answered to that name.
To the third, it was urged that, on the two former indictments, he had pleaded to the condition of labourer; and a person swore that the prisoner worked as a journeyman or servant, and did not carry on his business as a master.
To the fourth it was urged, that there were two such persons in Middlesex as John Doe and Richard Roe, the one a weaver, and the other a soldier; and this fact was sworn to.
In answer to the fifth, Ann Rondeau, the mother of the deceased, swore that she had no children except the murdered party, and Solomon Rondeau, the appellant: that Solomon was brother and heir to the deceased, which Henry Rondeau was not, being only the son of her husband by a former wife.
With regard to the last article, respecting his being not guilty, that was left to be determined by the opinion. of the jury.
Hereupon the trial was brought on, and the same witnesses being examined as on the former trial, to which that of the boy was added, the jury determined that the prisoner was guilty, in consequence of which he received sentence of death.
His behaviour after conviction was very improper for one in his melancholy situation; and, as the day of execution drew nearer, he became still more thoughtless, and more hardened, and frequently declared that he would cut his throat, as the jury had found him guilty of cutting that of his wife.
His behaviour at the place of execution was equally hardened. He refused to pray with the ordinary of Newgate and another clergyman, who kindly attended to assist him in his devotions.