JOHN BERRY, STEPHEN M'DANIEL, JAMES EGAN, JAMES SALMON AND -- BLEE
A new Species of Murderers, who conspired against the Lives of many Innocent Men
OUR readers might imagine that we have already related every species of murder, and it will hardly be credited, that so diabolical a conspiracy could be engendered in the mind of man, as that of enticing innocent youths to commit a robbery, and then apprehending them, for the sake of the reward, thus making a very trade of human blood. This infernal plot was however long successfully carried on, and many an innocent man fell a victim to the pretended violated laws of the country.
The head, or captain, as they dignified him, was Berry; a runner, or as commonly denominated a 'Thief-taker', who lived at the bottom of what was then called George-yard, at the bottom of Hatton-Garden, and Blee was his servant.
M'Daniel had kept a public-house in Holborn; Egan was a shoemaker, in Drury-lane; and Salmon a leather-breechesmaker, in Drury-lane.
These villains, horrid to relate, conspired together, in accusing innocent people of crimes which took away life, for the reward offered. Various were the diabolical plans they laid for this purpose.
At one time, they enticed two victims to join them in committing a highway robbery upon one of their own gang; a third was to purchase the stolen goods; and the other was to apprehend the intended victims, permitting his accomplice, who had been concerned in the robbery, to escape, and then to join the party robbed and the receiver in the prosecution. But if, through the information of the other two, the thief-taker, who proposed and assisted in the robbery, was apprehended, then, in order to preserve him, the prosecution was not supported.
These villains exhibited an accusation of robbery against two young men, named Newman and March. Upon their trial, they related the manner in which they had been seduced; but the evidence of the thief-takers was so strong, that they were convicted and suffered death.
A poor man, named Tyler, was met by one of the gang, who said he would make him a present of a horse, for which he had no further occasion. The unfortunate man joyfully received the horse from his apparently generous benefactor; by whom be was advised to take the beast to an inn in Smithfield, there to be taken care of till he should determine in what manner to dispose of him. Before he could reach Smithfield, he was seized by Egan, who took him before the sitting alderman; and it being sworn that he had stolen the horse, he was committed to Newgate, and soon afterwards hanged. In the year 1753, they charged an innocent man, named Woodland, with felony; and he was committed, and sentenced to suffer death: but he was so fortunate as to receive a pardon, on condition of transportation. The villains, however, claimed, and actually received, the reward, in consequence of having prosecuted him to conviction.
Joshua Kidden, whom we shall mention hereafter, was the next who fell a sacrifice to their diabolical artifices. It would be tedious to recount the particulars relating to the many people who suffered death through the false evidence of these atrocious villains; and especially as the several cases bear much similarity to each other. We shall now proceed to a narrative of the fact of which they were convicted.
The money obtained by the conviction of Kidden being nearly expended, they employed themselves in concerting new schemes of villany for recruiting their finances. It was determined to employ a man named Blee, a fellow of abandoned principles, who had for some time acted as an assistant to Berry, in attending in the fields about Islington till he could decoy two idle boys to consent to join him in a robbery.
They all held a meeting in an arbour belonging to a public- house, the sign of Sir John Oldcastle, in the neighbourhood of Islington, where they appointed the time for committing the robbery, and that it should be near Deptford, on account of the inhabitants of Greenwich having advertised twenty pounds for the apprehending any highwayman or footpad, in addition to the reward allowed by parliament. Their wicked plan being settled, they separated; for, lest they should be suspected of holding an improper correspondence, they were particularly careful not to be seen together, where there was a probability of their persons being known.
The time for holding the assizes being arrived, Mr Cox, having a warrant for apprehending Berry, Salmon, M'Daniel, and Egan, went to Maidstone, having Blee in custody. Mr Cox waited till the conclusion of the trial, but had no sooner heard the foreman of the jury pronounce the prisoners guilty, then he caused the four iniquitous accomplices to be taken into custody. They obstinately persisted in declaring themselves innocent; and even when confronted with Blee, denied having the least knowledge of him: but, on the following day, they severally requested to be admitted evidences for the crown; in this none of them were indulged, the evidence of Blee being deemed sufficient for their conviction.
They were removed to London, in order for trial, as being accessories before the fact. The jury were not able to determine whether the prisoners came within the description of the statutes fourth and fifth of Philip and Mary, or third and fourth of William and Mary, and therefore referred the case to the decision of the twelve judges.
The special verdict being brought to a hearing before the judges in the hall of Serjeant's inn, counsel was heard on both sides, and it was unanimously determined that the offences charged against the prisoners did not come within the meaning of the statutes above-mentioned: but orders were given for the indicting them for a conspiracy.
An indictment being found against them, they were again put to the bar at the Old Bailey, and the evidences exhibited against them on their former trial being recapitulated, the jury pronounced them guilty, and they were sentenced to be punished in the following manner: Berry and M'Daniel to stand on the pillory, once at the end of Hatton Garden, in Holborn, and once at the end of King Street in Cheapside; Salmon and Egan to stand once in the middle of West Smithfield, and the second time at the end of Fetter-lane, in Fleet Street; and all to be imprisoned in Newgate for the space of seven years; and upon the expiration of that time not to be discharged without finding sureties to be bound in the penalties of a thousand pounds each for their good behaviour for the seven following years.
March the 5th, 1756, M'Daniel and Berry were set on the pillory at the end of Hatton Garden, and were so severely treated by the populace that their lives were supposed to be in danger.
Egan and Salmon were taken to Smithfield on Monday the eighth of the same month, amidst a surprising concourse of people, who no sooner saw the offenders exposed on the pillory, then they pelted them with stones, brick-bats, potatoes, dead dogs and cats, and other things. The constables now interposed; but being soon overpowered, the offenders were left wholly to the mercy of an enraged mob. The blows they received occasioned their beads to swell to an enormous size; and they were nearly strangled by people hanging to the skirts of their clothes. They had been on the pillory about half an hour, when a stone striking Egan on the head, he immediately expired.
This man's fate, however illegally he met his death, will cause but little sorrow; yet, living under wholesome laws, we would not see even such a wretch as Egan punished but by the sentence of a court.
The sheriffs, fearing that should the survivors be again exposed to the vengeance of an enraged people they would share the fate of their companion in iniquity, the remainder of the sentence of pillory was on that account remitted; but the length of their sentence of imprisonment, added to the great amount of the sureties for their good behaviour after the expiration thereof, might have been considered tantamount to imprisonment for life; a fate well suited to such mischievous, hard-hearted, and unrelenting villains.
They, however, soon died in Newgate, thus ridding the world of the principal part of this terrific gang.