Executed on 16th of December, 1831, for the Murder of his Wife, whose Dismembered Body was discovered amid Rustic Surroundings
THIS horrible murder, almost unparalleled in atrocity, was discovered on Saturday, the 13th of August, 1831. On Friday, the 12th of the month, two men, named Maskell and Gillam, farm labourers, were passing through Rottingdean, near Preston, Brighton, when, on their arrival at a nook called the Hole-in-the- Wall, they fancied they perceived that the earth had been disturbed. They pushed away some of the mould with a stick and observed a piece of red printed cotton protruding, but at the time they took no particular notice of the occurrence. On their return home, however, to their respective families, they mentioned what they had seen, and Gillam's wife remarked that it was possible a child might be buried there. So Elphick, the officer of the village of Preston, was summoned to their assistance. On his arrival, Gillam procured a spade, for the purpose of digging round the suspected spot, and at length, at a distance of about eighteen inches only from the surface, a human thigh was found; immediately afterwards another thigh was dug up, and then a large bundle, wrapped in a dress made of the same description of cotton as that first seen, was produced. This bundle contained the trunk of a human body, but the head and arms were wanting. The body was still clothed in the stays, chemise and petticoats; and the gown, which had first attracted attention, appeared to have been loosely wrapped over it, and an effort made to tie it round with a cord, which presented the appearance of a petticoat string.
Crowds of persons thronged to the spot, and amongst them was a Mrs Bishop, the wife of a labourer at Brighton, who declared that the body was that of her sister.
An investigation was now immediately set on foot, which resulted in a conviction that the husband of the deceased, John Holloway, a labourer employed on the Chain Pier at Brighton, had murdered her, and had thus disposed of her remains, in order to conceal the circumstance of her death. During the six years which intervened between the marriage and the death of the unfortunate woman she and her husband had scarcely lived together for two consecutive months; and at length Holloway, who had quitted the Preventive Service in the year 1829, obtained employment on the Chain Pier, which was then in the course of construction, and took a woman, named Ann Kennard, to live with him as his wife. Mrs Holloway was then residing with her friends. Five weeks before the discovery of the murder, at which time Mrs Holloway was living with a Mrs Symonds, at No. 4 Cavendish Place, North Brighton, Holloway commenced his diabolical scheme for her murder. He called upon her, and expressed a wish that their former animosities should be forgotten, and that they should again live together as they had done when they were first married. The woman, who had throughout expressed the fondest affection for him, listened to his proposals, and it was arranged that he should fetch her on a certain day, to conduct her to lodgings which he had taken for her, the locality of which, however, he did not describe. On Thursday, the 14th of July, Holloway called for his wife at Mrs Symonds's; but he first took away her boxes, in which she had previously packed her own clothes and her baby-linen. Mrs Holloway expressed some apprehension that he would not come back; but he kept his promise, and returned for her in about an hour, and took her away, attired in a gown similar in pattern to that in which her body was subsequently found wrapped. From that time she was never again seen alive. Steps were at once taken to secure her husband and his paramour, Mrs Kennard. The latter was found first. She was residing at a house in Brighton, and was immediately taken into custody. On the same evening Holloway learned that inquiries had been made for him, and surrendered himself into custody.
The coroner's jury returned a verdict of "wilful murder against John Holloway," and he was committed to Horsham jail to await his trial.
A further search of the neighbourhood of Rottingdean resulted in the discovery of the missing head and legs, and on the following Saturday all doubts which might have been entertained of the guilt of Holloway were set at rest by his confession of his having committed the murder.
At his trial, which took place at Lewes, on Wednesday, the 14th of December, 1831, he was remarkable for the brutality of his demeanour. When he was arraigned his manner was such as to be fully in accordance with the atrocious nature of his crime. The court was excessively crowded, and when the name of the prisoner was called by the Clerk of the Arraigns a thrill of horror ran through the assembled crowd, which was audibly expressed in a murmur which gave much solemnity to the scene.
After hearing the evidence, the jury immediately returned a verdict of guilty, and the learned judge sentenced the prisoner to be executed on the following Friday, and directed his body to be given up to be anatomised. He mounted the scaffold on Friday, 16th of December, 1831, with a firm step. There was a strong expression of disgust among the spectators. He fell on his knees and prayed for a short time, after which the rope was placed round his neck and the cap drawn over his eyes. He then advanced to the front of the scaffold, and in a firm voice spoke as follows:--
"Now, my dear friends, I need not tell you that sin has brought me to this untimely end. As sin has brought me to this untimely end, I would entreat you to be aware that there is not one among you who, if he follows a life of sin and folly, may not be brought to the same condition; for when you trifle with sin, you know not where it will end. I know I suffer justly: I have spilt innocent blood; but, however deep my guilt, I hope in the mercy of that God who has said to the penitent, 'All your sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven you.' Therefore turn from your sins, and the Lord will forgive you."
After he had finished his speech he retired back on the platform, and the drop fell. The struggles of the culprit continued for some minutes.