Convicted at the Cumberland Summer Assizes, 1808, and executed for a Double Murder
ON the 24th of August, 1808, James Wood was put to the bar, charged with the wilful murder of Margaret Smith, wife of Thomas Smith, weaver, of Longburn, and Jane Pattinson, of the same place, spinster.
Thomas Smith, the prosecutor, and husband of Margaret Smith, deceased, was called and sworn. He said that he lived at Longburn, in the parish of Bromfield, was by trade a weaver, and had a small farm. James Wood, the prisoner, came to his house at Martinmas last, when he was at Wigton Market. His wife and wife's sister were at home, and the prisoner was detained by them till his return. The prisoner being a weaver, the prosecutor engaged him to work out a web which he had in the loom. He said the prisoner was a good workman, and could make about fifteen shillings a week when he chose to work, but seldom made much more than seven shillings, which was the price agreed on for his board. He continued with him in the capacity of a journeyman weaver from that time till 19th of January, 1808, on which day the prosecutor went in the morning to Wigton Market, leaving his wife, his wife's sister and the prisoner in the house. He (the prisoner) had on a pair of stockings and sleeved jacket belonging to the prosecutor, which he had obtained leave to wear, being himself very scanty of clothes, having only one suit. The prosecutor stated that when he left home, on the morning of the 19th, there were six guinea notes, a twenty-shilling note and a crown-piece belonging to his wife's sister; half-a-crown belonging to his wife, and three half-crowns and three shillings belonging to himself. The money was deposited in a box in the parlour, which was kept locked, and his wife had the key. The half-crown belonging to his wife had been in her possession a great many years, was of the coinage of William and Mary, and was marked with the initial letters of her maiden name, "M.P."
He stated that on his return from the market, in the dusk of the evening, he was much surprised, the day being wet, to find the cattle out in the yard, which, at so late an hour, was a circumstance uncommon. As attending to the cattle was the business of his wife and wife's sister, he called out, but got no answer. After taking his mare out of the cart he went into the house, and found his sister-in- law sitting on a chair, with her head resting on the table. After raising her head, and placing it on his arm, he wiped her face, which was smeared with blood, and exclaimed: "My dear jewel, what is the matter with you?" He received no answer; but as she was an infirm woman, and Wood, the prisoner, and his wife not being present, he imagined that, his sister-in-law having had a fall on the floor, they had gone out, one to inform the neighbours, and the other for surgical assistance; consequently he was not much alarmed, as he had not yet perceived the state she was in, only perceiving the wound on her forehead. He went out and took care of the cattle but was absent not more than three or four minutes. When he returned he lighted a candle, and discovered his sister-in- law to be snoring in her blood, with which the table was covered. He raised her up, and she opened her eyes; he thought she knew him, and seemed anxious to speak to him. He perceived her little finger was nearly cut off, hanging only by a small part of the inner skin, became much alarmed, and concluded she had been murdered. He now became anxious for the safety of his wife, and, after a little searching, found her in the barn. She was extended on the floor, with her head bleeding much; she appeared nearly dead, and was speechless. He said her skull was very much cracked, and her head as soft as a boiled turnip. His house being at some distance from any other, he went in search of help to his nearest neighbours, exclaiming "Murder!"
Mr Scott, magistrate of Annan, heard of the prisoner, on the 20th of January, being at the Tolbooth public-house, and went to have him secured. Robert Elliot, the constable of Annan, was with him. The witness (Mr Scott) asked him if he had purchased a watch, which he denied. He immediately ordered him to the jail, and went with him for the purpose of examination. He was there searched, and in the inside of his hat-lining a watch was found. He was then ordered to deliver up every other article of property of which he was possessed; when he put his hand in his waistcoat-pocket and took out a shilling, a watch-chain, some halfpence and a knife, and said he had nothing else about him. On further searching him there were found in his watch-pocket a crown-piece, four half-crown pieces and thirty shillings. One half-crown piece was of the coinage of William and Mary, marked with "M.P. 1802." All these articles were put in a paper in the presence of the prisoner, and seled. Two hours afterwards he was taken before Sir William Douglas, Messrs Greencroft, Hodgson, Forest and witness, Justices of the Peace, and examined. The prisoner then made a confession.
The jury, after a few minutes, gave in their verdict -- guilty; upon which the judge immediately passed sentence of death. He was executed the next day.