A Different Class of Murder
Of the eleven titled people tried by their peers, none was accused of a domestic killing. This kind of murder assumed ascendancy in the nineteenth century, along with the middle classes who specialized in it. In doing so they have, like the mad aristos, defined a certain kind of Englishness. Impossible to conceive anything more different from the flashing, dashing, devil-may-care behaviour of Earl Pembroke and his like.
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Domestic murder was a careful little business, for all its terrible riskiness. It was madness, but it looked like sanity. It was murder under wraps, behind curtains, committed most frequently with poison: a secret stream trickled discreetly into cocoa or a tea-time scone. It happened in places like Pimlico and Balham. Unlike aristocratic murder, it was committed by women as well as men. And it was done, typically, to maintain appearances, rather than to wreck them. It sought to retain the status quo by removing the element that threatened it. The brief period in , in which Crippen played happy house with his mistress while his wife lay in the cellar, cut into small and harmless pieces, symbolized the state of unassuming bliss to which the domestic murderer aspired.
So too does that of Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters. Their love affair culminated, in , in the murder of Mr Thompson. His wife was almost certainly innocent, but she was hanged for complicity. A woman of unusual allure, eight years older than the boy who had stabbed her husband to death, she did not command the sympathy of the Old Bailey. The judge disliked her, on what he called principle. In fact the prejudice against her was atrocious; but it is hard for a courtroom to be free of prejudice.
What motivated these murders was an abundance of emotion.
Murder (United States law)
But what caused them was lack of money; and the need for it, to keep up a front. Money, in fact, is the key to domestic murder.
Crippen could not afford to divorce his wife, so he disposed of her instead. Edith Thompson dreamed of leaving her husband, but did not dare because she feared that she would lose too much. So again the answer was murder. Murder, all too often, was what happened when alternative action was too expensive. No such cataclysm was necessary when the future 2nd Earl of Lucan fell in love with the wife of the future 12th Duke of Norfolk, formerly Lady Elizabeth Belasyse, a daughter of the Earl of Fauconberg.
Freedom, in such circles, could be bought. Lady Elizabeth obtained a divorce in and married the Hon. Richard Bingham that year; in he became Lord Bingham when his family was granted its earldom. That is not to say that there was no scandal. Indeed the scandal was intense. Criminal conversation was a peculiarly droll euphemism, which in essence meant anything but conversation.
A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan by Laura Thompson - milpankmanlaco.gq
Bingham had paid his addresses to her Ladyship before Mr. Howard had, that she was extremely attached to Mr. They could also afford to brazen out the shame. It was not forgotten, but it was absorbed into the sheer scale on which they lived. Nevertheless a criminal conversation action was a horrible business. Was it worth it? The Lucans themselves split after ten years. The earl, who again had the means to escape, moved to Bologna, and eventually married his Italian mistress. And so the evidence continued, damaging but not fatally so Bingham went on to a career in diplomacy.
Edith Thompson suffered in a similar way when her love letters were read out at the Old Bailey, but for her the stakes were immeasurably higher. From they lived apart.
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Lucan maintained an establishment in Mayfair and at Laleham House, the family residence built by his father on the Thames, some eighteen miles from London. His countess, getting away as far as possible, made her home on the Isle of Wight, with six servants. Living apart could be a civilized business, if money eased the way. The earl found his own amusements, meanwhile, and continued to do so into old age.
A codicil to his will, written when he was eighty-three, made provision for the children of an Elizabeth Anne Powell. And eleven years earlier, in , he had given some intriguing evidence at the trial of Marguerite Dixblanc, a Belgian cook who was accused of killing her French mistress, Marie Riel, at a house in Park Lane. The nineteenth century saw several cases in which the tables were turned, and servants killed employers.
Like Courvoisier, the girl was hanged. So too was Kate Webster, who in killed her mistress, Julia Martha Thomas, at a house in Richmond, dropping a box containing body parts from the nearby bridge.
Webster was a career criminal. At this time, and indeed until , an inquest jury had the right to name a person whom it judged to be guilty, who would then be committed for trial. The jury showed commendable scruples before doing this, rather more so than would be shown years later towards Lord Lucan. The maid then battered her mistress to death, and hauled the body into the pantry in an attempt to conceal it. She did, however, have a gentleman supporter living nearby, another member of the aristocracy: none other than the 3rd Earl of Lucan.
Witness: Yes, I went and fetched some one from 36 South-Street. I hardly know an English word that would describe her better. She was hasty. The 3rd Earl was a man accustomed to uncomfortable public speaking; almost addicted, in fact, to going head-to-head with adversaries.
In he had faced the House of Lords and stridently defended his conduct towards his starving Irish tenants. In he spoke at great length before the inquiry into the ill-conducted Crimean War, explaining his actions and shouting down censure. Marguerite Dixblanc was sentenced to death, despite the fact that the jury found premeditation not proven.
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Her foreignness had created its own prejudice, as had her appearance. Away from the hothouse of the Old Bailey, however, justice prevailed: the sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life.
Death in a pantry, in W1: how was it possible? Murder in such a setting was rare, almost as rare as murder committed by the aristocracy. The natural home of domestic murder was the suburb. Sex murderers operated in what were then the wilder frontiers of Whitechapel and Soho. Yet in the mid-twentieth century a handful of murders took place on upmarket territory. They were domestic, in their way, although no mystery lurked within the human dynamic.
Her defence was that she had been subjected to violence and sadistic practices: the prejudice, in this instance, was fiercely against the domineering man. Whatever the truth of her story that she had fired in self-defence, Madame Fahmy played the feminine part of victim to perfection.