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  • Susan Elaine Jones

Looking murder in the face

What's not to like?

Another of the gems from the Norwich Museum.

Death masks at Norwich Museum

The stories of these murderers, briefly:

Catherine Frarey and Frances Billing (top) collaborated using arsenic to poison Cat's husband (leaving her free to pursue a Mr Gridley) and Mary Taylor (the wife of Fanny's lover, Peter Taylor, to free him to marry her). They are notable not only for their innovative thinking in days when divorce was very rare, but also as women, very rare as murderers (even today, 10% or less of murderers are women, a gender based difference that I don't think anyone wants women to match men on).

John Thurtell was the son of an alderman, who later become mayor. Being less illustrious, he lured William Weare into a dark rural lane, then shot and beat him to death (I presume he wasn't much of a shot then). Further details on wikipedia include the ditty of the time:

They cut his throat from ear to ear, His head they battered in. His name was Mr William Weare, He lived in Lyons Inn.

Henry Groom was rather angry at being fired by his employer, John Ayton, who he in turn shot to death on the Holkham Estate (presumably being a better shot than John Thurtell).

There is probably nothing notable about these criminals or their crimes, but the Victorian fancy for taking death masks means that we can now look into their faces for any trace of the supposed phrenological or criminal facial traits that would become the basis of the pseudo-scientific eugenics, as detailed in the wonderful book The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould.

It is amusing to me that the main link that I can find for Henry Groom is someone on genes reunited asking for help tracing his 4x great grandfather. Nurture not nature is my hope for the answer in that thread.

Though I have to confess that after family folklore had it that both sets of my great-grandfathers were murderers, it was strangely disappointing to discover these were both red herrings... even the most promising, John Rose, hanged in Nottingham in 1896 for killing his wife, who apparently he adored and "would have gotten her all the gold she could eat". Murderers seem glamorous when many generations back - a bit of family "colour".

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