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The Newgate Calendar - THERESA PHIPOE


Executed before Newgate, 11th of December, 1797, for Murder

MARIA THERESA PHIPOE, known also by the name of Mary Benson, was a woman of masculine behaviour, and of a daring disposition. Two years previous to her committing the murder for which she suffered she was convicted of forcibly taking from Mr John Cortois a promissory note of hand for two thousand pounds.

The manner in which she procured this note was as follows. Soon after Mr Cortois had sat down in her house, she, knowing that he possessed considerable property, bound him, with the assistance of another desperate female acting as her servant, to his chair with a cord, and with horrid imprecations threatened -- and even attempted -- to cut his throat unless he gave her his note for two thousand pounds. In a state of terror he signed the written instrument. This done, the ferocious female thought she might negotiate the note with more safety if he was killed, calling to mind Satan's proverb that "Dead men tell no tales." For this diabolical purpose she again attempted to murder him, and ordered him instantly to prepare for death, either by swallowing arsenic, by a pistol, or stabbing with a knife, which she brandished over his head. At length the terrified gentleman became desperate in his turn, and attempted to escape. Mrs Phipoe seized him, but he extricated himself, after having several of his fingers badly cut with the said knife in the struggle.

For this most atrocious offence she was indicted and tried. She was found guilty; but her counsel moved an arrest of judgment, and an argument upon a point of law. It was determined that, great as were the aggravations in committing the crime, it did not come within the statute to make it felony without benefit of clergy. She was therefore indicted for the assault, found guilty, and sentenced, on the 23rd of May, 1795, to twelve months' imprisonment in Newgate.

Mrs Phipoe was discharged at the expiration of that term, and but a very few months elapsed ere, in her rapid course of vice, she committed the murder for which she was executed.

She was indicted for that she, not having the fear of God before her eyes, but being moved by the instigation of the devil, did, in Garden Street, in the parish of St George's-in-the-East, with malice aforethought, on the body of Mary Cox, commit the foul crime of murder.

It appeared in evidence that the deceased was acquainted with the prisoner, and that she had called at her lodgings. Soon after the mistress of the house heard a scuffle and groaning, so she called two neighbours, and, going to the prisoner's door, which was locked, asked what was the matter. She replied the woman was only in a fit, but that she was getting better. She then opened the door a little, when the witness saw she was stained with blood. Two persons went for a doctor, and a third, pushing open the door, saw the deceased bleeding upon the floor. She ran downstairs, crying "Murder!" and to her great terror was followed by the wounded woman, who laid hold of her. The deceased managed to get into the kitchen, where she was when the surgeons and beadles came. She was unable to speak, but yet made herself understood by one of the beadles that she had been thus wounded, by the woman upstairs.

He went up to the prisoner, who was sitting on the bed, and said to her: "For God Almighty's sake, what have you done to the woman below?" She answered: "I don't know; I believe the devil and passion bewitched me." There was part of a finger and a case-knife lying upon the table, He said: "Is this the knife you did the woman's business with?" She answered: "Yes." "Is this your finger?" "Yes." "Did the woman below cut it off?" "Yes." But this the deceased denied, upon his afterwards questioning her about it.

The surgeon described the deceased to have received five stabs upon the throat and neck, besides several wounds in different parts of the body, and agreed with the surgeon who afterwards attended her in the hospital that those wounds were undoubtedly the cause of her death. The next day the deceased made a declaration before a magistrate, wherein she stated that she had purchased of the prisoner a gold watch and other articles, for which she paid eleven pounds, and then asked for a china coffee-cup, which stood upon the chimneypiece, into the bargain. The prisoner bade her take it; but, on doing so, she stabbed her in the neck, and afterwards had her under her hands for more than an hour, she calling "Murder!" all the time, till at last she got her upon the bed, when she said she would kill her outright, so that she might not tell her own story.

The jury retired for twenty minutes, and returned with a verdict of guilty.

Proclamation being made in the usual form, Mr Baron Perryn immediately proceeded to pass sentence: that she should be executed on the Monday following, and her body afterwards dissected and anatomised, according to the statute. She left a guinea for the most deserving debtor in the jail, and gave the same sum to the executioner.

After hanging an hour in view of a great number of spectators, one-third of whom were females, the body was cut down and publicly exhibited in a place built for the purpose in the Old Bailey.


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