ELIZABETH JEFFRIES AND JOHN SWAN
Deprived of her Uncle's valuable Estate, the Woman and an Accomplice shot him dead after paying another Man to commit the Crime.
THE case of these offenders is one of the greatest atrocity. Elizabeth Jeffries was the niece of a gentleman of respectability residing at Walthamstow, who, having acquired an ample fortune, and having no children, adopted his brother's daughter, and made a will in her favour, bequeathing to her nearly his whole estate. The girl, however, returned her uncle's kindness with ingratitude; and, having heard him declare that he would alter his will on account of her bad behaviour, she determined to prevent his carrying his design to her detriment into execution by murdering him. She soon discovered her inability to complete this project single-handed, and she gained the assistance of her accomplice in the crime, John Swan, who was in the employment of her uncle, and with whom there is good reason to believe she was on terms of intimacy. They endeavoured to suborn a simple fellow named Matthews to assist them, but although the promise of a large reward at first staggered him, his terrors eventually steeled him against the temptations held out to him. The night of the 3rd of July, 1751, was fixed upon for the completion of this villainy; and at the trial, which took place at Chelmsford, before Mr Justice Wright, on the iith of March, 1752, the following facts were proved:--
Matthews, having travelled from Yorkshire, was accidentally met in Epping Forest by Mr Jeffries, who gave him employment as an assistant to Swan, who was his gardener. After he had been at work only four days he was sent upstairs by Miss Jeffries to wipe a chest of drawers, and she followed him and asked him if he was willing to earn one hundred pounds. He answered that he was, "in an honest way" -- on which she desired him to go to Swan. He accordingly joined him in the garden, and he offered him seven hundred pounds to murder their master. He acquiesced. On his being dismissed, two days afterwards, Swan gave him half-a-guinea to buy a brace of pistols; but having spent the money given to him he was ordered to meet Miss Jeffries and Swan at Walthamstow on the Tuesday following, at ten o'clock at night, the object being then to carry out their intentions with respect to the murder.
When he arrived he found the garden door on the latch, and going into the pantry he hid himself behind a tub till about eleven o'clock, when Swan brought him some cold boiled beef. About twelve Miss Jeffries and Swan came to him, when the latter said: "Now it is time to knock the old miser, my master, on the head." But Matthews relented and said: "I cannot find it in my heart to do it." Miss Jeffries then immediately replied: "You may be d---d for a villain, for not performing your promise!" And Swan, who was provided with pistols, also loudly abused him, and said he had a mind to blow his brains out for the refusal. Swan then produced a book, and insisted that Matthews should swear that he would not discover what had passed; and he did so, with this reserve, "unless it was to save his own life." Soon after this Matthews heard the report of a pistol, when, getting out of the house by the back way, he crossed the ferry and proceeded to Enfield Chase. Immediately afterwards Miss Jeffries appeared at the door of the house and called out for assistance, and, some of the neighbours going in, they found Mr Jeffries dying, but they failed in discovering anything which could lead to the supposition of any person having quitted the house. Suspicions in consequence arose, and Miss Jeffries was taken into custody; but no evidence arising to incriminate her she was discharged, and immediately administered on her uncle's estate and took possession of his property.
Renewed suspicions, however, were raised, and, Matthews having been discovered, Jeffries and Swan were apprehended. Upon this testimony a verdict of guilty was returned.
After conviction Elizabeth Jeffries made a full confession of her guilt. On the day of execution the convicts left the prison at four in the morning, Miss Jeffries being placed in a cart and Swan on a sledge. The unfortunate woman repeatedly fainted on her way to the gallows; and, having fallen into a fit, had not recovered when she was turned off. The execution took place near the sixth milestone in Epping Forest, on the 28th of March, 1752, and, the body of Miss Jeffries having been delivered to her friends for interment, the gibbet was removed to another part of the Forest, where Swan was hung in chains.