Cobweb as a Clue to a Bogus Burglary committed by a Butler, who was executed at Tyburn, 24th of June, 1778
AT the sessions held at the Old Bailey in April, 1778, Francis Lewis otherwise Grimison was indicted for breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Thomas Edmondes, Esq., on the night of the 14th of March preceding, and stealing a gold ring set with diamonds, valued at forty pounds, and a variety of plate and other valuable articles, to a very large amount.
The facts are these. The prisoner was butler in the family; his master was out of town, and had discharged the footman before he went. Grimison and three maids were all the servants that were left in the house with Mrs Edmondes. The prisoner, who was a married man, had asked for permission to go to see his wife. He returned about ten at night. Mary Giles, the cook, fastened the door of the area a little before one in the morning. The prisoner slept in the pantry; so that she went to bed and left him in the kitchen.
About three in the morning, as the watchman was passing, he heard a pistol fired in Mr Edmondes's house, on which he rattled with his stick against the iron bars of the area near which the prisoner lay; but receiving no answer he cried the hour, and at half-past three, as he was going his rounds, he heard the prisoner cry out: "O Lord! I shall be dead!" The watchman called out to know what was the matter; and the prisoner answered there were rogues and villains in the house, and he should be dead. The watchman then asked why he did not open the door. He said he could not, for he was tied.
On this the watchman knocked till two servant-maids came down, who found the prisoner tied in his bed, both his hands being tied to his ankles. He said that the house had been broken open; that three men came in; that the age of two of them was from thirty to six-and-thirty, and the other from twenty to four-and-twenty; that they had greatcoats on, and flapped hats; that one held a knife to him, and stood over him all the time, while the other two robbed the house.
Mary Robson, one of the above-mentioned servant-maids, deposed that the prisoner said three men came in, and he fired a pistol at one; and then they tied his hands and legs, and asked where his mistress's jewels were, and where his mistress lay; that then they took the plate out of the closet. She further deposed that he said that the plate was all carried away; that they insisted on having the key, and he gave it to them out of his pocket; that they doubled a silver tea-board together, tied it up in a tablecloth, and carried it away.
Information of this transaction having been given at Bow Street, three persons were apprehended, supposed to be those that the prisoner had described; but they were discharged on his saying they were not the men who had robbed his master.
The day after the robbery was committed Mr Clarke went from Sir John Fielding's office to examine how the burglary had been committed. When he came to Mr Edmondes's house he saw the prisoner sitting by the fire, who had two marks, as if cut with a knife. Mr Clarke took him to the area, on the outside of which was a brick a little broken, on which the robbers were supposed to have stepped. Clarke desired the cook to put up the shutters as they were on the preceding night. She did so. He asked if they were bolted or barred. She said both. He demanded if she would swear before a magistrate that they were bolted and barred. She said she would not swear that she bolted the place, but would swear that she barred it.
Clarke observed that the bar was a little broken, and that it went into a tenterhook, which would have been wrenched if the place had been forced open, But the most remarkable circumstance was this: a pane of glass was broken on the inside of which was a cobweb, which was in such a direction that it would have been carried away if anyone had come through the window.
Clarke now examined the door, and finding that all the force which had been used was on the inside he had no doubt but that the robbery had been committed by some person within the house; on which he told Mr and Mrs Edmondes his opinion of the affair. But the latter seemed very unwilling to admit even a suspicion to the prejudice of the prisoner.
Mr Clarke then showed the lady the place, and asked her if she had given the prisoner leave to go out on the preceding night. She said she had permitted him to go to see his wife. Clarke, finding that he was married, said: "Depend on it,the things are at his wife's" and, having obtained a direction where she lodged, he dispatched Charles Jealous and another person to the house of a grocer in Goswell Street. There they learned that she had removed to Holywell Street, Clare Market, where they found her, having in her possession a large trunk, with a quantity of plate and clothes in it.
The woman, being taken before Sir John Fielding, acknowledged that she was wife to the prisoner, that they were his lodgings, and that he himself had taken them.
In the interim the husband was taken into custody by Clarke, who desired him to acquaint him where the rest of the plate was, that no imputation might lie against the characters of the other servants. On this he acknowledged that he had thrown it into the cistern of his master's house. Thereupon Clarke went to the house and found the plate at the bottom of the cistern; and among other articles a large waiter bent double.
This and many other pieces of plate were produced in court, and sworn to by the prosecutor: on which the jury gave a verdict that the prisoner was guilty of stealing the goods in the dwelling-house; and at the close of the sessions he received sentence of death.
Of the behaviour of this malefactor after conviction no particular account is transmitted to us. Nor were endeavours exerted to save him, because it was justly presumed that he was unworthy of the Royal mercy.
Francis Lewis otherwise Grimison was executed at Tyburn, on the 24th of June, 1778.