Tried and executed for a diabolical attempt to murder his sister, her husband, and their servant maid, 4th April, 1818
THE attempt of DAVID OWEN to murder his sister, her husband, and their maid servant, is one of those instances of desperate depravity which reflect disgrace, not merely on the age, but on human nature itself. On the 26th September, 1817, about one o'clock at noon, this man, who was a cow-keeper, came to town from Edmonton, and proceeded to the house of his brother-in-law, also a cow-keeper, in Gibraltar-row, St. George's-fields. After knocking at the door, he was admitted by the maid servant, who called out to her master and mistress that Mr Owen was there; and Jones coming forward to meet him, the execution of his diabolical purpose commenced. He first attacked the man Jones, whom he wounded dreadfully in the belly and the hand, so far as for some seconds to deprive him of sense and motion. He then flew at Mrs Jones, his own sister, and inflicted upon her several shocking wounds: he stabbed her in the forehead, cut her severely, though not dangerously, between two of her ribs, and having thrust his knife in her mouth, drew it clean through the face to the ear, lacerating her tongue, and laying her cheek completely open. The ruffian last struck at the servant girl, whom he seriously cut in the face and one of her hands, besides dividing the main artery of her arm.
The poor wretches, though faint and almost insensible with terror and loss of blood, contrived to make their way into the street, where they were immediately observed by their neighbours, and were carried into the adjoining houses till medical assistance could be procured. In the meantime, the assassin had fastened the door of Jones's house, and with loud imprecations threatened to destroy any person who should dare to approach him. This threat, together with the impression of the horrible scene before them, and the circumstance of Owen (a remarkably large and powerful man) being armed with two knives, completely deterred the multitude, though soon consisting of many hundreds, from attempting to enter the house. Police-officers, however, were sent for, and on their arrival, and after the interval of nearly an hour, it was determined to break into the house and seize the desperate villain. For this purpose a great number of persons armed with pokers and crow- bars, some with ladders at the windows, and some on the ground, made a simultaneous attack on the house, and bursting it open above and below, rushed in with great force.
They found Owen on the first landing place, standing with an air of defiance, and whetting his knives one upon the other, as if for the purpose of rendering them more effectually murderous. One of the officers, however, without a moment's delay, struck him a violent blow with a crow-bar on the head, which knocked off his hat and staggered him; and another instantly took advantage of his tottering, seized one of his legs, and threw him on the ground. Still the ruffian was able to resist, which he did so obstinately, that the officers were compelled to beat and even wound him severely about the face and body, before he was subdued to a state of acquiescence. During the scuffle within, thousands of the multitude, indignant and horrified at the dreadful deed of blood which had been perpetrated, assembled outside of the house, with arms of various kinds, in order to prevent the possibility of his escape.
When overcome by the superior force of his opponents, he exhibited all the rage of a madman, and could only be moved by main force; his arms and legs being confined by strong ropes. Holmes, the most active of the officers, then sent for a hackney- coach, and had his prisoner lifted in and driven to Union-hall, where he underwent a partial examination before Mr Evance, the Sitting Magistrate.
Nothing could exceed in horror the terrific and bloody spectacle which he exhibited on this occasion; he was covered both with his own blood and that of his unhappy victims, from his head to his feet, and had more the appearance of a demon than of a human being. On being placed at the bar, he fixed his eyes upon a Jew attorney, named Cohen, and gnashing his teeth, he exclaimed, "You have been the cause of this!" Upon the evidence of Holmes, he was committed to Horsemonger-lane gaol, whither he was followed by some hundreds of persons, who overwhelmed him with their execrations. He had received a severe cut on the head, and one of his fingers was nearly severed from his hand; his legs and arms were also severely bruised.
As to the motive of this savage barbarity, it appeared, that some years back. Jones and his wife brought up from Wales two lads, the sons of Owen, whom they treated as their own; educating and supporting them in the best manner their circumstances would permit. The prisoner, Owen, in the mean time, carried on the business of a publican, at Edmonton, and having been guilty of some act of unkindness towards his brother-in-law, Jones, the latter thought proper to commence an action at law against him for the board and education of his two sons. In this action he employed the Jew attorney, Cohen, whom Owen addressed with so much bitterness on his entering the office. Cohen lost no time in furthering the views of his client, and proceeded without delay to serve a copy of a writ on Owen, at his house at Edmonton. The effect of this proceeding was so powerful upon Mrs Owen, that she actually died two days subsequent to the writ having been served; and to this event, melancholy as it certainly was, may perhaps be traced that hatred which at last led to the dreadful scene we have been describing. The action was, in the meantime pursued, but upon being brought into court, a reference was recommended and adopted, and the facts of the case were submitted to the arbitration of Mr Barrow and Mr Reynolds.
It appeared that a set-off was made by Owen against Jones's bill, in which he charged the latter for the work and labour of his sons, during the number of years they had been living with him; and as it appeared that the boys had been very generally employed in assisting Jones in his business of a cow-keeper, this set-off was admitted, and an award actually made in favour of Owen, over and above the sum demanded by Jones, of £100. The effect of this award was to drive Jones and his wife from the possession of some premises which belonged to Owen, situate at Newington. These premises Owen let to other tenants; and on his coming up to look after his rent, to his surprise and vexation, he found the house deserted, and the late occupants gone. It turned out, that the tenants had been detected in carrying on an unentered soap-work, and had found it convenient to fly, without the usual notice to the landlord.
The effect of this discovery on the mind of Owen was such, added to the recollection that his law-suit with his brother-in-law was the original cause, not alone of his present loss, but of his wife's death, as to produce a temporary fit of phrenzy, during which he determined to he fully avenged by the death of him whom he conceived to be the original offender. He immediately went to a house in the neighbourhood, where he dined and having increased his passion by the use of spirituous liquors he set out on his atrocious expedition, in which he succeeded in the melancholy manner we have already detailed.
The parties were all Welsh; Jones and his wife about forty years of age; the servant girl about twenty; Owen between forty-five and fifty, a man of remarkably formidable size and strength. The age of the eldest son was about eleven; both this lad and his brother had always preferred the society of their uncle and aunt to that of their father; and upon the elder one devolved the whole management of his uncle's business, consisting of an extended milk-walk. The servant girl, Mary Barry, had lived with them from her infancy, and was sincerely attached to them, She was a witness for Jones before the arbitrators, a circumstance which may perhaps account for the enmity of Owen towards her.
While Owen was being removed to Union-hall, surgical aid was procured for the wounded, and the opinion given by Mr Dixon, surgeon of Newington, was, that he considered the husband likely to die; the wife dreadfully, though not mortally, wounded; and the girl, though very seriously hurt, likely to recover. The man and the servant were, at the recommendation of the surgeon, taken to one of the hospitals, and Mrs Jones was carried back to her own house.
Jones's house exhibited a most desolate appearance, from the means that were taken to apprehend the assassin. The sashes at the back of the house had been forced out; and from the numbers of persons who pressed upstairs together, the bannisters were completely demolished.
In consequence of the weak and doubtful state in which the victims of Owen's sanguinary attack remained, no further inquiry into the particulars took place till the 10th of October following; and, indeed, the wretched prisoner himself had suffered so much from the severe treatment he had necessarily received in his capture, that he also was unfit to be removed at an earlier period.
Although it was not positively known that the prisoner would be examined on that day, yet several hours previous to the examination an amazing number of persons assembled, and the business of the office suffered considerable interruption. The Magistrates therefore thought it expedient to remove the prisoner into a private room for examination.
At one o'clock Mr Jones and Mary Barry arrived in a hackney- coach from St. Thomas's Hospital, under the care of a surgeon and two nurses; they were so weak as scarcely to be able to stand. At two the prisoner was brought into the room and confronted with Jones and the servant; the latter fainted as soon as she saw him, and it was with difficulty that Mr Jones was roused to sensibility. When he recovered, he exclaimed, "God! I thought I saw him with a knife in his hand." The magistrate ordered the prisoner to be taken out of the room, as his presence so much agitated the prosecutors. About two Mrs Jones arrived in a hackney-coach, also extremely weak, and the magistrates proceeded to hear evidence.
Mary Barry, the servant, stated, "On the 26th of September last, a little after one o'clock in the afternoon, I was at home with my master and mistress, and heard a knock at the door; I opened it, and saw the prisoner; without saying a word he forced himself in; my master was in the back room; I called out, "Mr Owen is here!" and my master then came out of the back room into the passage, where he met the prisoner. The prisoner immediately took from under his coat a large pointed carving-knife, and without speaking made a blow at my master, who lifted his hand to defend himself, and prisoner cut and struck him dreadfully on the hand. My mistress then came out, and she and I attempted to save my master, and take away the knife. I got hold of it, and he drew it through my hand, and cut me very much, and then he began cutting and slashing away at random, and cut us all three; he cut me on the arm, stabbed me in the neck, and wounded me in the forehead. I then ran out, and called for assistance, and came back again, and found my master lying on the floor in the back room, bleeding very much, and the prisoner lying over him, with a knife under my master's clothes, and apparently sticking in his side; when I returned to the house, a young man returned with me, and he assisted, and we held Owen's arms and got the knife from him, I was then taken by some persons to the hospital.
Mr Jones deposed to the same effect, and added, that the cut he received across the hand in the passage disabled him from offering much defence; and he soon became insensible; when he recovered, he found himself dreadfully cut in the neck, and part of his left ear off, He formerly had a law suit with prisoner, but had not spoken to him since August, 1816.
Mrs Jones stated, that during the struggle between them all in the passage, she heard prisoner say, "You wretches, I'll kill you all," She received several cuts about the head and face, and a stab in the side: saw the prisoner attempt to stab her husband in the side; then became senseless, having bled excessively.
Charles Hopkins, the young man alluded to in Mary Barry's evidence, stated, that he saw Barry run out of Jones's house, covered with blood, and calling for assistance; he went into the house with her, and saw Mr Jones on the floor bleeding very much, and prisoner lying over him, with the knife apparently in Jones's side; saw him seize Mrs Jones and pull her down; Mrs Jones called out to take the knife from him; the servant and he, by their united efforts, succeeded in getting the knife away from him; he gave the knife to Holmes, the constable, and then went to the hospital with Mr Jones and the servant.
Holmes, the constable, stated, that on hearing the alarm, he immediately went to the spot, and saw Owen standing on the defensive at Jones's house, with a knife in each hand; with great difficulty he secured him, searched him, and found in his pockets two other knives and a razor case.
On the prisoner being asked, if he had anything to say, his Solicitor advised him to reserve himself for trial. The respective parties were bound over to prosecute; and he was committed for trial to Kingston Assizes.
The prisoner seemed unmoved at the recital of the horrid deeds of which he had been the perpetrator, and appeared to eye the objects of his revenge with a malignity that it is difficult to describe. The fatal instrument was produced by Holmes, rusted with blood; it was a carving-knife fourteen inches long, and the blade about an inch and a half wide. The magistrate said it was a transaction as horrible as ever disgraced a civilized country. The prisoner was sent off to gaol in a coach, amidst the execrations of about two thousand spectators.
On the 4th of April, 1818, he was arraigned at the Kingston Assizes, on an indictment for cutting and maiming John Jones, and the whole particulars of the dreadful tale already narrated, were fully proved against him.
Several respectable witnesses were called on his behalf, who gave it as their decided opinion, that the prisoner had not been in his senses. He had a fever nine years before, and since then they thought him subject to melancholy and insanity. He used to walk, to shove his arms backwards and forwards, and to speak to himself, like a madman. His eyes had a wildness in them. He laughed, sang, and danced the night he was committed to gaol. The loss of his wife and of his property deranged his mind. He frequently exclaimed "Lord! Lord!" and complained of pain in his stomach. He had always been remarkably mild-tempered, humane, and civil. It was proved that the prisoner had a law suit with John Jones, who was his brother-in-law.
The jury, after some deliberation, found a verdict of -- Guilty. After a pause, their foreman recommended him to mercy, in consideration of the respectable testimony borne to his character.
The Judge immediately pronounced sentence of death, and assured the prisoner that he could not reasonably expect that the recommendation of the jury would have any effect. When the Judge was proceeding to pronounce sentence, two ladies, friends of the prisoner, screamed and fainted away, and were carried out of Court. The prisoner preserved the same unchanged look of composure throughout the trial, and when sentence was pronounced.
There were two other indictments, for feloniously stabbing Margaret Jones, the prisoner's sister, and Mary Barry, in the same place, and on the same occasion, but they were not prosecuted.