The trial of William Hope took place on 28 March 1863 at the Herefordshire Assizes.
The circumstantial evidence – William’s presence at the beershop, his attempts to get Mary to drink with him, his sudden absence from the shop when Mary left, and his failure to return back to his lodgings – was combined with the evidence of marks in the clay and mud matching his poorly mended cord trousers, and the teethmarks in his skin.
Particular emphasis was placed on this physical evidence, and the fact that the trousers had been found bloody and muddy. The newspapers reported that these were ‘damning proofs of the prisoner’s guilt’, and there was little surprise when the jury found Hope guilty of wilful murder, and he was sentenced to death.
In reality, Hope’s previous convictions virtually signed his death warrant. He was known locally as a bad character, a man with a criminal past, who was unable to get steady employment, who liked his beer a bit too much.Even his looks were perceived to be criminal.
He was the obvious suspect, and there is little evidence that the local community saw him as anything other than a bad apple. The press saw him likewise, stating that:
‘he displayed not the slightest feeling while sentence was pronounced, and seemed to be indifferent to the death that awaits him.’
It was reported that Hope was ‘sullen’ between his conviction and the execution, and that when the High Sheriff of Hereford had visited him in his cell two days before his death, he had admitted the murder, but blamed Mary for her own death.
He turned her second visit to the beer-shop as an invitation, a suggestion that she was interested in him – and so he followed her intending to ‘gratify his lustful passions’. He said that if Mary ‘had not returned a second time to the village beerhouse and shop, and waited for him in the road, it would not have happened.’
On the night before his death, Hope had been unable to sleep, only getting two hours’ sleep between 3am and 5am. He ate the usual prison breakfast at 7am. He was then pinioned, and helped onto the scaffold. He then knelt down to pray with the chaplain for a few moments, before the noose was adjusted round his neck, and the white cap placed over his head.
On Wednesday 15 April 1863, at exactly 8am, William Hope was executed by hangman Smith.
‘He was assisted to the drop, gazed for an instant with a wild look on the thousands of persons who had assembled to witness a murderer’s end, and the next instant was launched into eternity, life passing away with scarcely a struggle.’
His hanging was reported in far less detail than the original offence. This is, perhaps, what he deserved; it also reflects a desire by the press not to turn this hanging into entertainment, given contemporary concerns over the point of such executions.
But it also shows how the focus of the press was on the juxtaposition of good versus bad; the goodness of the loyal servant and the evil of her death at the hands of a criminal who had been given a second chance by the judicial system.
Sources for these blog posts: The Standard, London, 23 October 1862, The Leeds Mercury, 24 October 1862, The Standard, London, 25 October 1862, Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 28 March 1863, The Bury and Norwich Post, 31 March 1863, Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863, Criminal Registers, 1851 census, 1861 census, 1871 census via Ancestry.