The Newgate Calendar - WILLIAM CORNWELL


A Murderer, who was traced by a Watch he had sold, and was executed in 1813

   MRS STEPHENS was seen in her shop at Woodford, on Saturday night about ten o'clock, sitting behind her counter; and about eleven o'clock a female who occupied the adjoining house heard Mrs Stephens's door bang to with great violence, and then immediately heard someone run away.

   When discovered, Mrs Stephens was lying upon her face on the floor behind the counter, and a blood-stained knife upon a wooden bench within a yard of the place. The murder was not discovered till Monday morning, when suspicion arose from the windows remaining closed. It was supposed she was in the act of settling her week's account when the villain entered, as her slate was by her. The halfpence were counted up, and left, but the silver and notes had been taken away.

   It having been ascertained that she had been robbed of a new silver watch, No. 1544, it was described in several newspapers, after the murder, and it led to the discovery. One William Cornwell had worked as ostler at the Red Lion Inn Yard, in Holborn, but left in consequence of being in debt. He afterwards called in at a public-house near Lincoln's Inn Fields, when, on the landlady upbraiding him for leaving the neighbourhood without paying his score, he proposed to give the landlord his watch for a one-pound bank-note, and to clear off his score of fourteen shillings. He afterwards proposed to give the watch and take Mr Davis's old metal watch, and clear his score, provided he would give him half-a-crown, which was agreed to. On Monday morning the advertisement describing the watch appeared, and the landlord gave information at Bow Street of the discovery. Cornwell was in consequence taken at Woodford, and the way in which he accounted for having possession of Mrs Stephens's watch was that he found it on Sunday morning after the murder, at four o'clock, close to the pond near the Castle Inn, when he went to get water for his horses. On the Monday, he said, he ascertained that it was Mrs Stephens's watch, but did not inform any person, not conceiving that he had any occasion to do so, and that he had as much right to it as any other person; but he went to London on Wednesday, with an intent to dispose of the watch, and get some clothes. He also confessed that he had been at Mrs Stephens's shop on the Saturday evening of the murder, and had seen her in the shop about nine o'clock, previous to her shutters being put up. The officer then proceeded to the stables of which Cornwell had the care. On a corn-bin he found a pair of corded breeches, which had evidently been stained with a considerable quantity of blood, and had since been washed. In another part of the stable he found a jacket, which had been washed in a similar manner. He took the articles to Cornwell, at the Castle Inn, who owned them all except the jacket, which he said was his master's, but that he occasionally wore it; the stains on it were from a liquid with which he washed his horses' mouths; and the blood on the breeches was, he said, occasioned by bleeding a horse. When taken before the magistrate, every person's countenance except his own was serious and fixed; but he appeared smiling during the whole time; and he did not change countenance when the strongest circumstances were stated against him. He was tried at Chelmsford, 6th of August, 1813, and after a very laborious and patient investigation, which occupied the Court nearly six hours, he was found guilty. The evidence, although merely circumstantial, was nevertheless so conclusive -- being supported by various corroborative circumstances, as detailed at length by eighteen witnesses for the prosecution -- that the jury returned their verdict without a moment's hesitation. He exhibited the same levity and hardihood during his trial which he had shown during the examinations, always persisting in his innocence; and upon the judge pronouncing the awful sentence of the law, Cornwell said with a convulsive grin: "Thank you, my Lord, and gentlemen." The judge complied with a request of the magistrates that he might be executed at Woodford, and upon his arrival there he was placed in a private room with the Rev. Mr Kebbel. But, notwithstanding the zealous endeavours of that gentleman, he not only declined making any confession, but also steadfastly refused to join in prayer, confining himself to the same expression he had constantly used prior to his conviction -- that he had nothing to say, but was innocent of the crime for which he was going to suffer. And these were also the last words he uttered under the gallows.

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