Thursday, 19 August 2021

Murder at the Red Barn [Warning human body parts shown]

William Corder was not a pleasant chap as his lover and mother of his child, Maria Marten, was to find out to her cost. He took her life and then buried her in the so called red barn [due to its colour at dusk] where they had met up for their trysts. He'd lured her there on the promise that they'd travel together to Ipswich where he would marry her and thus stop her from being arrested for having children out of wedlock [she had already been abandoned by previous lovers when pregnant with their children] as the law stood in the early decades of the 19th century. She laid undiscovered for a year whilst Corder lied to explain her absence before his crime finally caught up with him. Without an alibi he was sent to the gallows in Bury St Edmunds and then onto the anatomist, Dr George Creed's table within the hour. In 1828 this was the standard treatment of a felon's cadaver, yet demand far outstripped supply and people had to face the very real fear that the bodysnatchers might steal their newly buried loved ones.

Aside from the salacious interest in the case at the time it's how Corder was treated post mortem that continues to generate interest. The remains of anyone who had been executed were quite deliberately treated with dispassion and intended to cause public humiliation of that individual. Ultimately it was thought that such actions would deter future criminals. Several casts were taken of his head which were then pored over by the pseudo scientists of the day to see if he had the physical features that would prove that he was predestined to commit such acts. Thankfully such bunkum [or phrenology to give it its formal title] is no longer credible. Although this type of thing would have happened to many, the main difference here is that some of the kept trophies have survived and are now on display in the very town where this man's life ended. They are exhibited in a designated case in the Moyses Hall Museum. Below you can see the death mask, the murder weapons, the preserved scalp and the book about the trial bound in the skin which was removed by Dr Creed and was originally added to his private collection.




Whatever one's personal feelings about such matters they are of interest because they record the attitudes of the time. Originally the skeleton was donated to a hospital, but it was eventually cremated in 2004 and the whereabouts of the ashes remain undisclosed.

Arilx


8 comments:

  1. Living in Suffolk and going to Moyes Hall often - it's one of those stories that I've grown up with - it's only when someone else mentions it that I realise just how gruesome it is!

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    1. It reflects the behaviour of the time and from an historical angle I find it fascinating. We have the acid bath murderer here. Arilx

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  2. While yes, it reflects the thinking of the time, I'm going to not stop at that exhibit. I don't like mummy displays either. I want the Dead. I guess the cast is not the person, but the book- pretty hard for me to see.

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    1. I thought it only fair to prewarn people for that very reason. Arilx

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  3. My eyes shot to this as soon as I saw your title!.My Mam was always told,from being a small child that these people were distant relatives of ours.I have researched over the internet...as far as I am capable of,lol...and the photo that I managed to find of Maria Marten bears a strong resemblance to my Mam!.Her name in our family is pronounced...Mer ri ah...as in the old police cars that were black merias.If you get my drift!xx

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    1. Wow! I guess you know that there's a folk song about Maria. Although she came from a poor background she could read and write which was very unusual at the time. Arilx

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  4. Replies
    1. I love my history, but it can be very dark sometimes! Arilx

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