The Newgate Calendar - WILLIAM JOHNSON

Executed at Newgate, 7th of January, 1833, for murdering a Wig Maker's Son, whose Body was found in a Ditch

            This is an instance of murder, in which the depravity of the human mind is painfully depicted. The victim of the foul deed was a young man named Benjamin Danby, the son of a respectable tradesman, a forensic wig maker, in the Temple. Young Danby, at an early age, expressed a passion for a maritime life, and he accordingly went to sea. After making several voyages, he returned and found that his father was dead, that the bulk of his property was settled on his sisters, but that an allowance of a guinea per week had been secured to him during his life. These circumstances made a deep impression upon the mind of the young man; but his allowance having been increased by his sisters to two guineas per week, he became more settled. Towards the close of the year 1832, he took up his residence at the house of his cousin, a Mr. Addington, a baker, living at Chase Side, Enfield Chase. His manners were remarkable for all that freedom and eccentricity for which persons in his situation are proverbial; and with his pockets well lined with cash, and possessed of a warm and generous disposition, he soon became a great favourite among the villagers. His acquaintance among them was extensive, and he not unfrequently enjoyed his cigar, and a game at dominoes, at the "Three Horse Shoes," a small public-house in the village. It was here that he met with his future murderers. His attachment to frolic, and his easy good-nature, had led him to form acquaintances among persons of low character, and of abandoned habits, in the neighbourhood; but he dearly paid the forfeit of his imprudence.

            On Wednesday afternoon, the 19th of December, 1832, at about four o'clock, he quitted Mr. Addington's house for the last time. He took his gun with him, saying he was going shooting, but promised to return at ten o'clock; he was carried back on the next day a corpse. The unfortunate young man, it appears, having enjoyed his favourite pastime, repaired to the Three Horse Shoes, where he met some of his companions. Four persons, named William Johnson, the son of a gardener in the vicinity; Richard Wagstaff, a baker; Samuel Cooper, a carter, who was quite a lad, and the son of a labouring man; and Samuel Sleath, or Fare, a person who appeared to have no determined occupation, were seen in his company, and they were engaged playing at dominoes (as usual), and drinking together, apparently upon excellent terms. At about a quarter past ten o'clock young Danby declared that he must go home; but he had now become somewhat intoxicated, and on his reaching the open air, he was observed by Mrs. Perry, the landlady of the public-house, to stagger. Johnson and Fare said that they would see him home; but their manner induced a suspicion in the mind of Wagstaff that they were going to rob him: he therefore called to young Cooper to come away; but his answer was, that he had been with them all the evening, and that he meant to "go up there" with them now. Wagstaff then went away in a direction the contrary to that taken by Danby and the others.

            On the following morning, at half-past five o'clock, a man named Wheeler, a labourer, was passing through a place called Holt White's-lane, about half-a-mile from the Three Horse Shoes, when he observed a dead body in the ditch. He called a man named Ashley to him, and they discovered that it was the body of young Danby. His legs were towards the road, and the head in the ditch, face downwards; and on their turning it over, it presented a horrible and ghastly spectacle. The face was cut and slashed in a most dreadful manner; the flesh was scored out, as it were, in five places; and the right whisker was completely cut away, and hung suspended to the jaw by a small piece of skin. In the throat of the murdered man they observed a deep stab, inflicted in the manner which would be practised by a butcher in killing a sheep, the knife having been turned in the wound. They at once communicated the particulars of this horrifying discovery to the police of the town, who lost no time in procuring the removal of the body to a neighbouring public-house, "The Old Sergeant," and in conveying the dreadful intelligence to Mr. Addington.

            Inquiries were instantly set on foot, and the circumstances above detailed having been ascertained, Johnson, Fare, and Cooper were taken into custody. The first-named person was found sitting in his father's house, deep in thought. He instantly consented to accompany the officer. Fare was found in the village in the course of the day; and on his being searched, eleven shillings were found on him, although on the previous day his poverty had driven him to procure two shillings, parish relief; and Cooper was found driving a brewer's waggon within fifty yards of the spot where the murder was committed, having unconcernedly just passed a crowd assembled at the place, gazing in horror at the scene of the transaction to which he had been a party. At the moment of his being secured, he was listening with well-feigned astonishment at a recital of the dreadful discovery of the morning, although at that moment he had upon his head a cap, the inside of which was stained with the blood of the murdered man.

            In the course of the day the spot where the murder had been committed was minutely examined. It appeared as if there had been much struggling, and as if the unfortunate deceased had made a desperate resistance. On the ground near the body were found a number of shot, and a long strip of cloth; and at some distance the handkerchief, which the deceased had carried, was also picked up. The deceased was proved to have carried shot with him on his quitting Mr. Addingion's house, together with the bowl of a tobacco-pipe to load his gun. Some shot, exactly similar to those found in the road, and the bowl of a tobacco-pipe also agreeing in appearance with that used by the deceased, were found on Fare; and the trousers worn by Johnson were ascertained to correspond in colour with the strip of cloth found, and to have lost such a piece of their original fabric.

            Thus much evidence had been obtained, when the prisoner Cooper sent for one of the constables, and declared that he would tell him all. He then proceeded to detail to him the circumstances attending the murder; but as he subsequently repeated his statement before the coroner, it shall be given in the more authentic form in which it was there received.

            The inquest first sat upon the body of the deceased on the day after the discovery of the murder, but its proceedings were continued from day to day for a week from the date of their commencement.

            On Monday the 24th of December, Cooper made his statement in the following terms: --

            "On the Wednesday night, about ten o'clock, I went to the Horse Shoes public-house, to get me a pint of beer, and there was John Taylor, Charles Jackson, Danby, and Richard Wagstaff playing at dominoes; William Johnson and Samuel Fare were also there. When they had done playing at dominoes, Fare and deceased began tossing for beer and gin; they gave me some of the beer and gin to drink. We all went out together about eleven o'clock, or a little after; I went out first, and Johnson, Fare, Richard Wagstaff, and the sailor (deceased) followed. The man who was murdered fell against the rails of the river, near the door of the Horse Shoes, and then asked some of us to lead him home; Johnson and Fare took hold of him, and led him as far as Wagstaff's. In going along, Wagstaff persuaded me to go home, but I did not go. I had got as far as Wagstaff's, and the others were a little farther on; Fare, Johnson, and the deceased had a scuffle, and Wagstaff went into his house just at that time. Fare fell down, when deceased took hold of me by the arm, and asked me to lead him home; I and William Johnson and the deceased went on, and Fare stopped behind. When we got opposite Mr. Addington's, Johnson persuaded the deceased to go on, and get a pint of beer; the deceased said, 'With all my heart;' and then me, Johnson, and the man went on. I thought he was going to Mr. Cutliffe's, but he went on to Holt White's-lane, or Chase-road, as it is called; a man and a woman passed us there, and I wished them good night; Johnson, the deceased, and me, went up the Chase-road, and I thought we were going to get some beer at the top of the hill; we went up until we almost came to Pinnock's (a beer-shop), when Johnson turned us round; I had hold of one arm of the deceased and Johnson the other; and on Johnson turning us round, I was next to the ditch, I having hold of the left arm; on going down the road, and when we had proceeded about eight or nine poles, Johnson said, 'I am cursed if Sam (Fare) hasn't robbed me;' about half-a-minute after, Johnson put his foot behind the deceased and threw him down on me, and I fell in the ditch with the deceased upon me; my head was underneath the head and shoulders of the deceased; I drew myself from under the deceased, and my cap came off; I felt about for my cap, and found it underneath the man's head; it was all over blood; I said to Bill Johnson, 'What have you been doing with the man? Don't hurt him;' he said, 'I've done him;' when I got out of the ditch, and stood in the middle of the road trembling, Johnson came away from the man to me; when deceased lifted up his head, and said, 'O, don't, don't, pray don't, I know;' Johnson then said, 'Here, take this knife, and go and finish him;' I replied, that I would not; Johnson said, 'Don't say a word,' and shook his fist at me; he then went and killed the man directly; I should have run away, only I was afraid I should have been served the same; I saw Johnson pick up something from the side of deceased; he then took a handkerchief from the deceased, and gave me a piece of bread out of it, which I threw over the hedge; we then came away down the road, and Johnson several times said, 'Don't say anything to anybody;' I wanted to go to my own house, but he said, 'Come this way across the fields, don't go that way.' We then went across Mr. Corney's field, and over the New River bridge; Johnson washed his hands and his knife in the river; it was a black-handled clasp knife, which I have seen several times; after washing the knife, we went over the Horse-shoe bridge, and turning down by the river side, near Mr. Robinson's, Johnson took the deceased's handkerchief from his pocket, and threw it into the water; we then parted, Johnson again urging me to say nothing; I then went home; Fare left us near Mr. Cutliff's (near the house where Wagstaff lived); I did not see him again after I took hold of the deceased to lead him away."

            The prisoners, Johnson and Fare, were introduced into the room before the case was concluded, and the nature of the evidence against them stated to them. They contented themselves with denying the truth of the allegations which were made, and conducted themselves throughout with extraordinary composure.

            The jury at the conclusion of the proceedings returned a verdict that the deceased had been wilfully murdered by Johnson and Cooper, and that Fare had been accessory before the fact.

            The prisoners were then committed to Newgate to await their trial, Cooper being also detained in custody to give evidence.

            On Friday the 4th of January, 1833, the prisoners, Johnson and Fare, were put upon their trial at the Old Bailey. The inquiry lasted during the whole day, and the court was much crowded. There being now no further evidence than there had been before the coroner, to implicate Fare in the actual murder, he was acquitted, and removed from the bar; and Johnson was then called on for his defence. He put in a written statement, commenting upon the prejudices which had been excited against him, and declaring that Cooper's must have been the hand by which the deed was done, for that he and Fare had left the deceased with him at the end of Holt White's-lane on the night of the murder, and had seen no more of either of them afterwards.

            The jury retired to deliberate upon their verdict; but after an absence of two hours, they declared the prisoner to be "Guilty," Sentence of death was instantly passed, and the prisoner was ordered for execution on the following Monday, a doom which he heard with little emotion.

            On the appointed day, the 7th of January 1833, the sentence of death was carried out upon the body of the malefactor. There was an immense concourse of spectators; and on the appearance of the culprit on the platform, the groans and exclamations of disgust on the part of the mob were deafening. The unhappy culprit was, however, lost to all sense of the misery of his condition, and was totally unable to stand without assistance. The rope was placed round his neck as quickly as possible; and at the usual signal the drop fell.

            During the time intervening between his conviction and his death, the wretched man appeared to become alive to the awful position in which he stood. He was frequently exhorted by the worthy ordinary of the jail, to whom he declared his sincere repentance. On the Sunday he was visited by his wife, to whom he had been married about three years, and who was now in an advanced state of pregnancy. The interview was exceedingly affecting; and Johnson, who, it would appear, had not been a kind husband, seemed deeply to feel the harsh conduct of which he had been guilty, and entreated her forgiveness. After his wife had gone, he sunk gradually to a state of stupor, from which nothing could rouse him.

            He had previously made a statement to Mr. Sheriff Humphrey, of which the following is a copy:-- "I had with others been drinking at the public-house, and afterwards, about eleven or half-past, we left, accompanied by Danby, the deceased. On going home Fare left us, and then Cooper went with Wagstaff. On being left alone with Danby, he informed me that some one had robbed him, and I was so frightened for fear that I should be taken up for highway robbery, that I was determined not to leave, but to get him to some house of safety; and, on passing his relation's (the baker), I wanted to knock them up, but he would not let me, and said they were gone to bed, and so we passed on; but I now wish that I had stopped there, then this would not have happened; but it is now too late. As we were going on, Cooper came up; he had been away about five minutes, and the moment Danby saw him, he said, in great excitation, 'This is one of the chaps that robbed me,' and he flew at him (Cooper) like a tiger, and said he would serve him just in the same way as he served a black man in the East Indies, and in the scuffle we all went down on the ground, by the ditch, and I do most solemnly say, that I did not trip up the deceased; and he (Cooper) also was on the top of him (deceased); and while he was down. Cooper had a knife (a clasp-knife, I think, but the night was so dark I could not say which, and the point was as broad as my two fingers), and he was cutting the deceased. I do also most solemnly say, that I also took the knife, and cut Danby, and did help to kill him; but the knife was not mine, nor do I know where the knife came from. Cooper had it in his hand when the deceased was on the ground in the ditch. Knowing I must leave this world soon, I do most solemnly avow before God, in whose presence I must soon appear, that Cooper first cut the deceased, and I afterwards struck him; and afterwards I stood by and saw Cooper take something out of his pockets. He said, 'I have got three-halfpence,' or 'one penny and one halfpenny.' We were both very much frightened, and left the deceased in the lane, and went home across the fields. I do also most solemnly say, that when we left the public-house we had no idea of killing him. I do not know who robbed him, but suppose it must have been Fare, as the money was found on him, and it was proved he had been applying for relief from the parish. I can only say, I had no hand in robbing him, either directly or indirectly; and what possessed me to participate in killing him I know not; but, after the deed was done, I was ready to kill myself; and I now say, that I ought to die for committing such an act. The knife which Cooper said, in his examination, was mine, and that it was a black-handled one, and small blade, I do most solemnly avow I had lost some time before, and had no knife with me when we left the public-house. The night was so dark, I could not distinctly see the one the deed was done with, and after it was done I threw the knife into the ditch, and suppose (the knife not being found) that Cooper must have picked it up; and the reason of Cooper's confession I believe was made thinking I should tell of him first and have him convicted; but we both said, 'We shall be hanged.' I have no ill-will towards any man, and I now leave this world for a crime which I shudder at."

            The unfortunate man, as we have already said, had been married about three years. He was a native of Enfield, and was brought up by his father to the business which he followed, that of a jobbing gardener. He attributed his misfortunes to his marriage, and to his inability to procure work sufficient to support him and his family.

            His late fellow-prisoner Fare, was on a subsequent day put upon his trial, for stealing from the deceased the money of which he was known to have been possessed, and a portion of which had been found in the prisoner's pockets on his apprehension. A verdict of "Guilty" was returned, and the prisoner was sentenced to be transported for fourteen years.

            Fare, it appears, was like Johnson a native of Enfield, and at the time of his apprehension lived with his mother, a widow in that village. He had been occasionally employed among his neighbours at jobbing-work of all descriptions, and was at the time of the murder in extreme poverty.

            Cooper, the companion in guilt of the two convicts, having been detained in custody until the end of the sessions, was then discharged.


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