Illustration: Stacey Murdering Bird and His Housekeeper
The murder of which the former of these diabolical criminals was guilty very closely resembles that mention of which will be found in a preceding part of our calendar, of Mr. Bird and his housekeeper, which took place at Greenwich.
Mr. Langtrey, it appears, was a person nearly eighty years of age, and of great bodily infirmity, residing in a small house in Prospect-row, Portsmouth, to which he had retired, after he had amassed a considerable fortune in his business as a brickmaker. His only servant, and the only other inmate of the house, was a woman upwards of sixty years old, named Christian Jollife, who acted as housekeeper, but who was assisted in procuring such comforts as the old man required, by a Mrs. Dyott, a neighbour, living at an adjoining cottage. Mr. Langtrey was so feeble as to be unable to quit his bed-room, which was situated on the first floor of his house, and he was attended there by Mrs. Jolliffe. He was known to have saved a considerable sum of money, and he was reputed in the neighbourhood to keep a very large amount (in notes and gold) in the house. Amongst those who were observed to be particularly inquisitive into his affairs, was a young man named Stacey, about twenty-one years of age, an apprentice to a barber, living close by, who usually shaved Mr. Langtrey,-- an office which his infirmity prevented his performing for himself.
On the morning of Monday the 2nd of March, 1829, the vicinity of the dwelling of the unfortunate old man, was thrown into a state of the utmost confusion and alarm, by the propagation of a report that he and his housekeeper had, in the course of the previous evening, been murdered in a most barbarous and cold-blooded manner. Inquiries were instantly set on foot by the authorities of the town, and it proved that the statement was true; the murders having been discovered by Mrs. Dyott, the assistant of Mrs. Joliffe in her attendance upon her master. Mrs. Dyott, it appeared, had repaired to Mr. Langtrey's house, in accordance with her usual custom, on the previous evening, at a little after six o'clock, to assist Mrs. Joliffe in preparing the old man's bed; but was unable to procure admittance, although she made a considerable noise at the door. Imagining, however, that the old people were asleep, she took little notice of the circumstance; but upon returning on the following morning, and finding the same silence prevail, and the same inattention to her application for admission, she became alarmed, and called in the aid of a neighbour. It was determined by the latter instantly to force open the back door, and upon his entering the house, he at once perceived the fearful crimes which had been committed. Upon the floor of the lower room lay the body of the aged housekeeper, frightfully mangled, and with the head nearly severed from the trunk; while around her lay the instruments by which some of the injuries had evidently been caused. A slater's hammer (smeared with blood and brains), which was known to have belonged to Mr. Langtrey, was lying at her feet; and near her were portions of a broken broom-handle, which had been evidently employed in the desperate conflict which must have taken place between the old woman and her assailant. The skull of the deceased was found to have been completely smashed in, in several places; and around her were pools of blood, extending over a space of several feet. In the upper apartment a scene no less frightful presented itself. The old man, whose age nor infirmities could protect him from the assassin's blow, was found to have been murdered with equal barbarity. His body lay upon the floor, dressed in his usual attire, with his walking-stick by his side; but his skull had been frightfully fractured by repeated blows from the same deadly weapon with which his housekeeper had been assailed, and his blood and brains were scattered over the apartment to a considerable distance.
A further alarm was immediately raised upon this dreadful discovery being made, and the utmost consternation prevailed. Upon a minute examination of the house, it became evident that plunder had been the object of the assassin. The boxes and drawers had been rifled of their contents, which lay strewed about the rooms; and money, deeds, papers, and wearing apparel were scattered in indiscriminate confusion. The murderer had been apparently disturbed in his work of robbery, probably by Mrs. Dyott's knocking on the previous evening, and had left his work unfinished, but a bag containing 600l. was found to have been stolen.
The aid of the London police was immediately obtained with a view to the more speedy apprehension of the murderer, for it appeared as if one only had been engaged in the diabolical acts; but several days passed before any suspicion of a tangible nature could be said to attach to any one. Stacey, the barber's apprentice, during the week had pursued his ordinary avocations with his accustomed coolness; and, although the murder had been made the subject of conversation in his presence, had exhibited no agitation or feeling which could indicate that he viewed the circumstance in any but the most ordinary light. On the Friday, however, he complained of a sore hand, and claimed exemption from work; and on the Monday following, he became very free with his money. His wages as an apprentice amounted only to two shillings and sixpence per week; but on this day he was observed to quit Portsmouth in a hired chaise, with two women of the town, on a "lark" as he expressed himself. Some suspicion in consequence attached to him, which was strengthened by the discovery of a knife which corresponded in every particular with one which was known to have belonged to him, at a short distance from the scene of the murder, and in a direct line between that place and his father's residence, smeared with blood and hair. The instrument with which the throat of the unfortunate Mrs. Joliffe had been cut could nowhere be found in the house; and it was at once concluded that the weapon which had been discovered was that which had been used for that horrid purpose. Upon inquiry, it turned out that young Stacey had been absent from his master's house on the afternoon of the murder, with a fellow -apprentice named Connamore, the brother-in-law of his master, and had been at his father's house, in Charlotte-row, during a considerable portion of that evening. It was, in consequence, thought advisable that he should be at once apprehended; and the result proved the propriety of the adoption of such a course. He was discovered by the constables at a house at Porchester, in company with the females who had quitted Portsmouth with him; and immediately on his perceiving that he was pursued, he became agitated, and exclaiming, "I am done!" endeavoured to conceal himself in a barn. He was soon discovered, however, and carried back to Portsmouth, where he was examined before the magistrates. The testimony of young Connamore proved to be most important. From his statement, it appeared that Stacey had told him that old Langtrey had desired him to purchase for him a tract called "The Book of Martyrs;" that Stacey having no money, had requested him to advance the necessary means for this purpose; and that he himself purchased the tract, and handed it over to his companion. On the Sunday, the 1st of March, Stacey and he went from their master's house to visit the father of the former, taking the tract with them, which Stacey expressed his intention to carry to the old man. They remained together during the greater part of the day, but at about twenty minutes before six in the evening, young Stacey went away, carrying the tract with him. It was nearly eight o'clock before he returned, and then on his knocking at the door, the witness let him in. He passed rapidly by him, and rushed up stairs, at the same time calling to his father that he wanted him. The latter directly followed him, and they remained in close conversation for a considerable time. Shortly afterwards, Mrs. Stacey, who was young Stacey's step-mother, joined them, and then Connamore heard something as if some clothes were thrown into a tub of water and washed. Immediately after this, old Stacey sent him off to a distant shop to purchase some bread and cheese, and on his return, he found his fellow-apprentice sitting by the fire, without his shirt, which his stepmother was drying by the fire, after it had been apparently washed, and which was subsequently ironed before he put it on. At about half past nine o'clock, he returned home with young Stacey, and on their way the latter said that he had been fighting, and had got some blood about his clothes. The witness examined his coat, and found that a portion of it was so completely covered with blood as to require a knife to scrape it off. It further appeared that a copy of the tract, called "The Book of Martyrs," was found close by the bloody knife which had been discovered, and the additional testimony of a witness having been obtained of the prisoner having been seen getting over the railings of old Langtrey's house on the night of the murder, he was committed for trial. His father also, of whose knowledge of and acquiescence in the murder there could be no doubt, was also secured, and committed to take his trial on the minor charge of harbouring his son, at the same assizes.
In the interim the additional evidence of the identity of a glove which had been found in the house of Mr. Langtrey, and which had been left there by the murderer, was procured, from which it appeared that it was one of a pair which had been given to young Stacey by a gentleman, and both of which he wore on the day on which the murder was committed.
During his confinement, young Stacey exhibited little contrition; but after having been visited by his three sisters, he appeared to become sensible of the awful nature of his position, and confessed to a fellow-prisoner that he was guilty of the crimes imputed to him, and communicated the manner in which he had murdered the poor old people. He said, that he had presented himself at the door with the tract in his hand, and that having gained admission to the house, he seized Mrs. Joliffe by the throat with an intention to strangle her, but that finding she resisted, he took the candlestick which she held in her hand from her, and beat her over the head with it until it was bent in all directions. She at length fell down, and then he seized the handle of a broom, with which he beat her, until she ceased to move, and he thought she was dead, the broom, however, being broken in the struggle. He then went up stairs to the old man, and seizing him by the collar, demanded his money. He made some resistance, and struck him with his stick; upon which he knocked him out of his chair; and taking up a tiling hammer, which he saw in the room, he killed him. Returning down stairs, he thought Mrs. Joliffe moved, and he struck her also repeated blows with the hammer, and at last took out his knife and cut her throat. Whilst engaged in this act, some one knocked at the door, and he became terribly alarmed; but he heard the person go away, and then he commenced his work of robbery. He was too hurried, however, to secure more than the bag containing 600l.; but before he took this, he cut the old man's throat, in order to be certain that he was not watching him.
On the same day on which this most fearful detail of his crimes was made by young Stacey, his father also made a confession, pointing out the place in which he had concealed the bag of money. The turf had been cut out, and the bag placed beneath it, in such a manner as to have rendered it exceedingly doubtful that it would ever have been discovered, but for its being pointed out. The whole of the money was recovered, with the exception of about 30l., which had been spent by the younger prisoner in the purchase of a watch and seals, and some articles of clothing.
The trial of the prisoners came on before Mr. Justice Burrough, at Winchester, on Thursday the 30th of August, in the same year, when a verdict of guilty was returned upon the facts which we have detailed being proved in evidence.
The learned judge at once passed the sentence of death upon the younger prisoner, who was ordered to be executed on the following Monday, and his father was sentenced to be transported for life.
The day fixed for the execution being that upon which Magdalen Hill Fair was held, the concourse of people assembled was immense. The wretched criminal met his fate with sulky resolution, and declined the services of the chaplain, whom he had dismissed on the previous day. His parting from his father is related to have taken place without the smallest exhibition of regret or feeling on either side; and the miserable parent had so far overcome the ordinary sensations of paternal affection, as to request to be permitted to witness his son's execution,-- a request which was granted; and of the accordance to which he took advantage. The miserable youth appeared to suffer but little after he was turned off. Upon the scaffold he declared that he was assisted in the murder by an associate of his, whom he named; but who, subsequently, distinctly proved his innocence.
The execution took place on Monday, the 2nd of September 1829, at Winchester, opposite the jail.