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The Foreigner's Downfall (1857)

Murder Ballads
Secret London

Serbian soldier stationed in England gets dumped by his Kentish girlfriend, and kills her in revenge. Her sister's there at the time, so he has to kill her too, and is later hanged for the double murder.

The Broadside
This A3 sheet by a Maidstone printer called Powell gives us seven untitled verses perched above a long prose account of Dedea Redanies' crime, trial and execution. Much of the prose account is copied verbatim from reports in The Times.
The sheet's illustrated with a stock shot of a hanging at Maidstone prison and, more remarkably, Redanies' own drawing of the murders in progress.

The Ballad
Oh list awhile both far and near,
Good people one and all,
And shed a tear of pity for,
A foreigner's downfall,
I killed two maids: two pretty maids,
For which I'm doomed to die,
On Thursday morn, poor Redanies,
On Maidstone gallows high.

Behold poor Dedie Redanies,
For murder die on Maidstone tree.

My dear, my sweet Maria Back,
It does distract my mind,
That fatal day I did her slay,
And lovely Caroline,
I stabbed them with a deadly knife,
I cast them on the ground,
I threw away each precious life,
Not far from Folkstone town.

Far from their home and parents,
These virgins I decoyed,
And all their youth and beauty,
I most savagely destroyed,
I left the lovely sisters,
Both weltering in their gore,
Then strolled away and thus today,
I'll see them nevermore.

I drew their pretty likenesses,
While in the jail I lay,
Maria and my Caroline,
Were always standing by,
I gazed upon their portraits,
When comfort I could find,
By looking on Maria,
And my own dear Caroline.

Far from my native country,
From kindred, friend and home,
There's no-one near to comfort me,
For I am here alone,
Tried by the laws of England,
And doomed to hanged be,
A poor degraded foreigner,
On Maidstone's dismal tree.

The hangman is approaching,
My end is drawing nigh,
Behold my final moments,
In a foreign land I die,
For the murder of two pretty maids,
Two lovely sisters kind,
Whose names were sweet Maria,
And my darling Caroline.

The Facts
Dedea Redanies was one of the thousands of foreign soldiers Britain recruited to help it fight the Crimean War. A Serbian by birth, he signed up as a private in the British Swiss Legion and came to the UK in 1855. He was garrisoned for training at Shorncliffe Camp, just west of Folkstone in Kent, where one of his duties was to act as batman to Lieutenant Schmidt.
The Crimean War ended in March 1856, leaving the Shorncliffe recruits still in Kent. By then, Redanies had struck up a friendship with a Dover family called Back, who earned a little extra money by doing laundry for the officers in the camp. Redanies had met Caroline and Maria Back, the family's two daughters, one evening after he'd been to the theatre, and they invited him home to meet their parents.
Redanies was then 26, Caroline was 19 and Maria was 17, so it was only natural that he and the girls would joke together whenever the handsome young soldier brought Schmidt's clothes round to be washed. The girls' parents, John and Mary, liked Redanies too, and it wasn't long before he and Caroline were courting. "He had been paying his addresses to my daughter Caroline [who] always appeared very fond of him," John Back later said. "He appeared a quiet, amiable person, and I never saw anything amiss with him."
We have copies of Redanies' love letters to Caroline in the Summer of 1856, when he sent her a picture of himself and asked for her own portrait in return. In July that year, he had a spell at Aldershot Camp, but wrote to Caroline again, promising to come and see her at Dover on the following weekend. "I kisses you many tousand," he says in his broken English. "God spead you well."

The bodies were quite warm when Bateman saw them and blood gushed out of the wounds

On Saturday August 2, Redanies turned up unexpectedly at the Backs' house around 8:00pm to speak with Caroline. She had a trip to Folkstone planned next morning - a distance of about nine miles - and intended to catch the 6:15am train there. Redanies suggested she leave a bit earlier, and walk to Folkstone with him instead. They could take the cliff path, he said, and make a small detour to Shorncliffe, where he said he had a sister he wanted Caroline to meet.
Caroline had been unwell recently, and her mother thought a nine-mile walk might be too much for her. Redanies managed to persuade her, however. "He said a little walk before sunshine would do her good," Mary Back remembered. "I then consented that she should go, but that Maria should go with her."
It was settled that Redanies would leave the house again about 9:30pm, and return next morning just before three o'clock for an early breakfast with the girls before setting off for Folkstone. John Back ate with them while his wife slept on, and the three travellers left Dover a little after three o'clock on Sunday morning. "There was no quarreling between them, and they all seemed merry," John Back said.
Redanies and the two girls were next seen at about 5:00am on the road between Dover and Folkstone, about a mile east of Capel-le-ferne. An ostler called George Marsh was sitting on the bank there when he saw two girls walking along arm-in-arm with a foreign-looking soldier. As they passed by, Redanies asked Marsh what time it was. "They then went on towards Folkstone, talking and laughing," Marsh said.
Three hours later, just after 8:00am, a Folkstone carpenter called Thomas Gurling was at Capel-le-ferne himself, near a spot the locals called Steddy Hole. He'd stopped there to read for a while, and was trying to find a safe path down to the beach when he stumbled across the bodies of the two dead girls.
"The first he came to was Maria's body, the youngest," The Annual Register says. "He looked at her face and dress, and found it saturated with blood about the chest. He called assistance, and then he went to the other girl, who was also dead. The blood was on her clothes, and her fingers were cut. They were lying about 15 yards from each other when he saw them. When he discovered them, they were both dead. He saw they were both wounded about the chest."
As soon as he discovered Maria's body, Gurling ran to a nearby pub called The Valiant Sailor and got Richard Kitham, the landlord there, to come back down to the bodies with him. He then went to fetch the police from Folkstone and they, in turn, summoned a doctor called William Bateman. He got there about 9:00am, by which time police had placed the bodies in the out-building of a convenient house called Burvill's Cottage. The two girls still had their gloves and bonnets on, but there was no sign of the silk capes they'd each been wearing when they left Dover.
Bateman examined Maria first. He found four holes in her dress and a set of corresponding stab wounds between her second and fourth ribs. These had penetrated deeply into her chest, killing Maria instantly.
Turning to Caroline, Bateman found three similar stab wounds in her chest, the fatal one of which had been forceful enough to penetrate her sternum. The cuts on Caroline's left hand suggested she'd been wounded there while trying to fend off the knife. "Both of their chests were filled with blood," TAR says. "They had not bled much externally. The bodies were quite warm when [Bateman] saw them and, on turning them over, the blood gushed out of the wounds."
Whether the girls carried some identifying documents on them, or whether someone on the scene that day simply recognised their faces, I don't know, but Mary Back was called to Burvill's Cottage, and confirmed their identity that evening. She told police that, while Redanies had been eating breakfast with her family on Saturday morning, she'd had a dream that he would murder the girls and that their bodies would be found on the beach. The ballad sheet credits this premonition as leading to Redanies' swift arrest, but it hardly required supernatural intervention to make him the chief suspect.
Next day, Monday August 4, Elizabeth Attwood was in her shop at Lower Hardres, about seven miles north of Folkstone, when Redanies came in and bought two sheets of writing paper, two envelopes, a pen and a bottle of ink. He asked Attwood if he may sit and write the letters in her shop and, when she gave permission, spent the next 90 minutes doing so. He then sealed the envelopes and walked off towards the Post Office with them.
A few hours later, a policeman called George Fryer spotted Redanies acting suspiciously on the road between Canterbury and Chartham, near Milton Chapel Farm. He'd thrown away his military coat by this time, and stripped the red piping off his trousers too, but Fryer still recognised him as a soldier.
As Fryer caught sight of him, Redanies pulled his hand sharply from his breast and threw the knife it had held down on the ground. Fryer ran up and caught hold of him before he collapsed. Another passer-by rushed over to help, but neither could yet see that the soldier had stabbed himself, and was now bleeding.

Songs menu: A feast of facts and all the lyrics

The menu below lists a few of my favourite ballads from the British Library's collection and elsewhere. Click on any title to find the full lyrics and my account of the case that inspired them. And, if you haven't already read it, do take a look at my background essay describing the London industry which produced these songs.

Part One (April 2010)

Mary Arnold, The Female Monster

The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs

Mrs Dyer, The Old Baby-Farmer

The Gallows Child

Part Two (June 2010)

The Life and Trial of Palmer

The Silent Grove

The Liverpool Lodger

The Unnatural Murder

Part Three (Oct 2010)

Murder at Westmill

Streams of Crimson Blood

The Murdered Maid

Cruel Lizzie Vickers

Part Four (Feb 2011)

Jones and Harwood

The Sister and the Serpent

Jealous Annie

The Foreigner's Downfall

Bonus songs

The Tyburn Jig

Corkery's Farewell

The Gallows Ballads Project: Musicians wanted
If you'd like to help PlanetSlade bring these gallows ballads back to life as fully-performed songs, why not set one of the 16 ballads' public domain lyrics to your own music and record yourself singing and playing it?
   Any music you write would remain your own property, of course, as would the recording itself, and I'll make sure that all writers and performers are fully credited.
   There's no money in this for anyone - least of all me - but I think it's a worthwhile project nonetheless. There are several ways to get your song heard:

1) Send a digital recording to me, and I'll post it online with the other free downloads listed in PlanetSlade Music, together with a link from your chosen song's page here.

2) Post the recording online at your own site or the hosting service of your choice. Let me know where it can be found, and I'll add a link telling people where to go. Please remember that some hosting sites allow access to members only.

3) Film yourself performing the song, and post the video to YouTube. Once again, I'd be delighted to add a link here telling people where to find it.

4) Write your own song from scratch, based on the true story that inspired one of the ballads, then follow whichever of the above options suits you.

   Check PlanetSlade Music for a taste of what I have in mind. I spent all of 2012 recruiting contributors for this little project, and I've now accumulated at least one new recording of each of the 16 original ballads I selected. You can find links to all this audio on the PlanetSlade page above, or hear the whole "album" in the Soundcloud set here.
   The styles people have chosen range all the way from unaccompanied traditional folk singing via acoustic guitar ballads to full-on rock workouts with a whole band.
   Contributors so far include Sean Breadin of Rapunzel & Sedayne, The Jetsonics, Pete Morton, Fred Smith, Tim Radford, Big Al Whittle and South County.
   Three continents are represented in all, and at least one of the songs has already made it into the contributing band's live set. None of the tracks have achieved a commercial release yet, but I dare say a couple will make that leap eventually.
   We've already got multiple versions of several songs up there, including Nathaniel Mobbs and The Murdered Maid, so please don't feel you're too late to make your own contribution.
   I'm all for people adding second, third or even fourth interpretations of a single song, using as many different musical genres as we can muster. Many, many thanks to all those who've already taken part.
   You can reach me with any questions here