Executed 10th of August, 1832, for the Murder of Mr Paas, whose Remains he attempted to destroy by Fire
MR PAAS was a respectable tradesman, and carried on business, at No. 44 High Holborn, London, as a manufacturer of the brass instruments used by bookbinders. Cook, his murderer, was a bookbinder at Leicester. Mr Paas was in the habit of taking occasional journeys in the way of business, and in the course of his travels Cook became his customer, and ordered goods from him to the extent of about twenty-five pounds. Cook at this time was twenty-one years of age, and he had only recently entered upon the business of his deceased master, in a small yard leading out of Wellington Street, Leicester, upon his own account. In the month of May, 1832, the usual period of credit had expired, and Mr Paas wrote to Cook, saying that he should visit Leicester in a few days, when he hoped to receive the amount of his bill. On Wednesday, the 30th of May, Mr Paas accordingly arrived in Leicester, and put up at the Stag and Pheasant Inn. In the afternoon he quitted that house and proceeded upon his rounds, for the purpose of collecting the accounts due to him in the town. He called at several places, and amongst others at the house of Cook. After he had left there he was seen by one of his customers, of whom he made inquiries as to Cook's solvency, and whom he informed that he had already called upon him to pay an account, and that he had been requested to call again in the evening. Mr Paas was not seen alive again after this; and the result showed that he had been wilfully and most diabolically murdered by his customer and debtor.
The circumstances which attended the discovery of the murder were of an extraordinary and interesting nature. The workshop which Cook occupied was situated over a cowhouse, in the occupation of a Mr Sawbridge, a milkman. On the evening of Wednesday, the 30th of May, a very large fire was observed to be blazing in his workshop; but as considerable heat was known to be occasionally necessary for purposes of trade, no notice was taken of the occurrence. About eight o'clock Cook visited the Flying Horse, a beershop in the immediate neighbourhood of his workroom. He called for some drink, and played a game of skittles with an undisturbed aspect, and then requested change of a sovereign. The landlord, Mr Nokes, produced the coin necessary, and Cook, on giving him the sovereign, took from his pocket a silk purse containing money to a very considerable amount in gold, silver and notes. This excited some surprise, but no remark was made, and Cook went away, returning apparently to his workshop. After a short time, however, he went to Mrs Sawbridge and told her that he was going to work during the night in order to finish some articles which he had in hand, and desired her therefore not to be frightened if she should see that he had a fire. At half-past ten o'clock he returned to his workshop, and was let in by Sawbridge. From that hour until half-past four o'clock the next morning nothing was seen of him, although it was evident that he had remained in his room, as he was unable to quit the premises without the knowledge of his landlord. A strong light was observed in his workshop, and he was heard occasionally to move about, both in the house and in the yard; but although his father went to look for him, and to inquire into the cause of his unexpected absence from home during the night, he made no answer.
On Thursday evening the murder was discovered. At about ten o'clock the appearance of an unusual degree of light in the workshop of Cook attracted observation, and the neighbours had assembled, as fears were expressed that the premises had caught fire. The window-blinds were down, and from without no distinct information could be obtained of the existence or non-existence of any conflagration, so an entrance to the building was in consequence determined on. Mr Timson, a broker who resided within two doors, went to the top of the stairs leading to Cook's workshop, burst open the door, and immediately entered that apartment. He found that the fire which had been kindled in the grate was extended far beyond its usual bounds, and a large piece of flesh was burning on the top of it. The flesh was taken off and put on the floor, and then the fire was raked out and extinguished. Cook was sent for, and he declared that the flesh was horseflesh, and that he had bought it for the purpose of feeding a dog; but a surgical examination showed that it was part of a human body. The non-return of Mr Paas to his inn at once led to a belief that he had fallen a victim to the barbarous machinations of Cook, that he had been murdered, and his remains thus mutilated and consumed. A sensation of horror was created as this idea gained ground, and evidence which confirmed the general impression was soon obtained upon an examination of the premises of the supposed murderer. In the chimney of his workshop was found all that remained unburned or unscorched of the body of the unfortunate Mr Paas. Two thighs and a leg, separated from each other and from the main trunk of the body apparently with great determination by a knife and a saw, were found suspended from a nail by a cord in the chimney, about a yard and a half above the fireplace, evidently only awaiting a favourable opportunity when they too might be consumed, and then all trace of the murder would be destroyed. In the room were also discovered the leg of a pair of black trousers covered with blood, together with a snuff-box, an eyeglass, a pencil-case with the letter "P" engraved on it, and some fragments of cloth much stained with blood. Among the ashes were found the horrible remains of the deceased, in the shape of calcined bones; and there was also discovered a gaiter of the description known to have been worn by Mr Paas.
On Sunday, the 3rd of June, an inquest was held upon the remains of the deceased, at the Dog and Gun, in Market Street, and the jury returned a verdict that Mr Paas had been wilfully murdered by James Cook.
A few days sufficed to bring this atrocious malefactor to justice. Cummins, an officer of Leicester, started in pursuit of him, and he succeeded in apprehending him on Tuesday, on the point of joining a vessel just sailing from Liverpool for America.
On Wednesday, the 8th of August, the prisoner was put upon his trial at the Leicester Assizes, charged with wilful murder. The indictment alleged the murder to have been committed in various ways, in order to meet all the circumstances of the case.
The prisoner, when called upon to plead, confessed himself guilty of the offence imputed to him. He declared that he was fully acquainted with the effect of his plea, and declined to withdraw it.
Sentence of death was then immediately pronounced by the presiding judge; and, in order that the heinous nature of the crime of the prisoner should be more especially marked, he ordered that his body be gibbeted in chains after his execution. On the following Friday, the 10th of August, the sentence was carried into effect, the convict being hanged in front of the jail at Leicester.
When the body had hung the usual time it was cut down and conveyed back to the jail, in order that the necessary preparations might be made to carry out that portion of the sentence which directed his remains to be gibbeted in chains. The head was shaved and tarred, to preserve it from the action of the weather; and the cap in which he had suffered was drawn over his face. On Saturday afternoon his body, attired as at the time of his execution, having been firmly fixed in the irons necessary to keep the limbs together, was carried to the place of its intended suspension in Saffron Lane, not far from the Aylestone Toll Gate, a short distance out of the town of Leicester. A gallows, thirty-three feet in height, had been already erected; and the horrible burden which it was intended to bear was soon attached to it. The following day, thousands of persons were attracted to the spot, to view this novel but most barbarous exhibition; and considerable annoyance was felt by persons resident in the neighbourhood of the dreadful scene. Representations were in consequence made to the authorities, and on the following Tuesday morning instructions were received from the Home Office directing the removal of the gibbet, and granting the remission of that portion of the sentence by which this exposure, the remnant only of a barbarous age, was required. These orders were immediately obeyed, and the body was subsequently buried in Leicester.