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The Foreigner's Downfall: continued

Murder Ballads
Secret London

"[Fryer] then took one of the capes from the back of the soldier," TAR says. "Another girl's cloak remained on his back. There were three wounds in his left breast, One of the capes had three cuts in it, covered with fresh blood, and corresponding with the wounds in the body of Dedea Redanies." Fryer laid Redanies down on the grass and summoned a local doctor to patch him up as best he could. He was then taken to Canterbury Hospital and left there to recover with a police guard standing over his bed.
A coroner's hearing was held at Hougham's Royal Oak Inn on Thursday, August 7, where John Back identified the two capes as belonging to his daughters, and Bateman confirmed the knife matched Caroline and Maria's wounds. The two letters Redanies had written in Attwood's shop were also produced and read aloud.
In the first of these, addressed to the girls' mother, he opens by begging her to forgive him for "the awful accident which I committed upon my very dear Caroline and Maria Back yesterday morning at five o'clock."

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

As the letter continues, Redanies falls into his old habit of calling Caroline's sister "Mary Ann" instead of Maria. "Arm in arm, I brought both my dearest souls in the world over to the unlucky place near the road before Folkstone, and requested them to sit down," he writes. "But, the grass being wet, they refused to do so. I directed them, Caroline to go forwards, and I went behind Mary Ann, into whose heart I run the dagger. With a dull cry, she dropped down. With a most broken heart, I rushed then after Caroline, lifting the poniard in my hand towards her. 'Dear Dedea,' cried she, with half-dead voice, and fell down with weeping eyes. Then I rushed over her and gave her the last kisses as an ever-lasting remembrance."
Later in the same letter, he adds: "I took both the black shawls of Mary Ann and my dear Caroline as a mourning suit for me, leaving the awful spot with weeping eyes and a broken heart. Never shall I forget my dear Caroline and Mary Ann, and the poniard will be covered with the blood of Mary Ann and Caroline with me until it be put in my own breast and I shall see again my dear Mary Ann and Caroline in the eternal life."
Both the letters were written in German, which the court had translated. In his letter to Schmidt, Redanies tries to make amends for a couple of outstanding debts, repeats his promise of suicide and asks the Lieutenant to call round at Mary Back's house to translate the other letter for her. He hints at several reasons for killing Caroline in his letter to Mary Back, but it was only after some later evidence emerged that these became intelligible to anyone outside the family.
The coroner's jury decided unanimously that Caroline and Maria had been wilfully murdered. It was clear by now that Redanies' self-inflicted stab wounds were not serious enough to kill him, so the next step was to put him before the magistrates in Canterbury.
Redanies was given an interpreter there, but refused every opportunity to question the witnesses or speak for himself. When John Back stepped up to give his evidence, Redanies burst into tears, and wept all the time John was speaking. "The prisoner looked very ill and dejected, and appeared to feel deeply the awful situation in which he was placed," The Times reports. "As many citizens as could be accommodated were admitted into the room, and the greatest interest was manifested in the proceedings."
The magistrates committed Redanies for a murder trial at Maidstone's next assizes, and returned him to his cell at the county prison. By this time, he was in such a distressed state that he had to be carried from the court in his chair.
George Hinton was also imprisoned at Canterbury while Redanies was awaiting his murder trial there, and the two men would sometimes talk together. Redanies told Hinton that, in the Spring of 1856, he'd seen Caroline with an artilleryman from Woolwich, who she told him was a friend of hers. Redanies had his spell in Aldershot then, writing regular letters to Caroline that alternated between his declarations of love and anguished pleas that she should not leave him.
It's clear that Caroline had started to tire of Redanies by this time, but couldn't get him to leave her alone. At one point, she went so far as to tell him that she was pregnant, apparently in the hopes of scaring him off so she could take up with her artilleryman instead. Even that didn't do the trick, and Redanies was angry when he discovered her lie.
When he next visited her in Dover, Caroline returned his letters, and Redanies noticed there was one from the artilleryman mixed among them. "He read it, and found the writer said he hoped he should soon have the pleasure of seeing her at Woolwich," Hinton said. "After this, Caroline returned him his portrait, and at the same time, told him that she intended to go to Woolwich. The reply he made was 'You no go to Woolwich', and he immediately went out and bought the knife."
When his murder trial began on December 16, 1856, Redanies gave a plea of "Guilty" to Caroline's murder, but "Not Guilty" to Maria's. The judge, Baron Bramwell, pointed out to him that entering a guilty plea to Caroline's murder meant the law would have no choice but to pass a death sentence. All he achieved by pleading guilty, Bramwell said, was to ensure that he'd be hanged without the evidence against him being properly tested in court. He gave Redanies another chance to change his mind, but he remained adamant that he wanted to plead guilty to Caroline's murder.
Redanies' remarks after the trial suggest he'd meant to plead guilty to Maria's murder too. He'd once again been given an interpreter in court, but that would still have left some language difficulties, and we know from press reports that he was very flustered at this point. "His intention was to plead guilty to both charges of murder," The Times says. "He has never entertained the slightest hope of escaping [...] the inevitable consequences of his crime." No-one knew that at the time, of course, and the end result was that a trial for Maria's murder would have to go ahead.
At that trial, Mary Back added her own evidence to Hinton's account, saying she'd seen Caroline give Redanies a portrait on the final evening he called, and that he'd torn it angrily to pieces. "Saturday evening, when I came, I had not any intention to commit this awful act," Redanies tells Mary in his letter. "But as I learned that my dear Caroline gave me back my likeness, and as she told me she would leave, I did not know any other way in my heartbreak than leading to the cutler's where I bought a poniard."
John Green, the Dover knife-seller Redanies visited that night, gave evidence at the trial too. He said Redanies came to his Snargate Street shop, and asked first if Green could fit a new blade to the knife he already had. Green said he couldn't get the job done till next week, and Redanies replied that was no good, because he planned to leave for Serbia on Monday. He bought a new knife instead, choosing one with a blade about four inches long and three-quarters of an inch wide.
In his letter to Mary Back, Redanies had said he killed Caroline because he discovered she lied to him about being pregnant, and because she intended to leave him for the artilleryman in Woolwich. Now the jury could see how these reasons fitted in with the wider story. "Because I cannot stay with my very dear Caroline, it made my heart so scattered," Redanies told Mary in his letter. "I put into my mind at last that Caroline rather may die from my hands than to allow Caroline's love being bestowed upon others.
"However, I did not intend also to murder Mary Ann, her sister, but not having other opportunity, and as she was in my way, I could not do otherwise - I must stab her too."
Redanies had made no attempt to get a lawyer for the trial, so Bramwell - trying again to ensure the fairest treatment he could - allowed a volunteer called Barrow to defend him. All he could do was suggest that Redanies had not been in his right mind when he stabbed the two girls, and that he should therefore be acquitted on grounds of temporary insanity. This held no water with the jury, who instantly decided Redanies was guilty of murder.
That verdict came on December 18, 1856, and Redanies was returned to prison to wait for his execution date to be settled. He amused himself there over the next few days by producing a pair of drawings, arranged side-by-side, showing Maria and Caroline's murders as they happened. He gave these to one of the guards watching over him, who promptly sold it to the newspapers.
Maria's scene shows her body lying under a tree, with an angel hovering over her to take her soul to heaven. There are some ships in the background to show we're on the coast, and Redanies' inscription reads: "Farewell my dear Maryia - Dedea Redanies".
In the other drawing, we see Caroline, leaning on Redanies himself, who has one hand round her waist and the other clutching her left hand. He said this showed him "bidding her an eternal farewell". The knife he's just stabbed her with is lying on the ground nearby, and another angel's hovering overhead. This drawing's inscribed "Death of Caroline Back, from Dedea Redanies, of August 3, 1856. Farewell, my dear Caroline."
Redanies made the sketches in pencil on a sheet of scrap paper. "Both drawings are exceedingly well-done, considering the nature of the materials at the prisoner's command," The Times pronounced. "There is quite a pre-Raphaelite minuteness of detail." Powell had an engraving of the drawings made for his sheet which, he's keen to point out, is "a correct representation".
Redanies behaved quietly in prison, winning himself quite a bit of sympathy among the guards for his unassuming ways. "He has slept well and eaten well, and exhibits the greatest unconcern of his approaching fate," The Times said. "Since his confinement, he has become very stout, and so much improved in his general appearance that some of the witnesses could hardly recognise him." Just before his execution, he wrote another letter to Mary Back, this one to be delivered after his death. He signed it not only for himself, but on Caroline and Maria's behalf too, assuring their mother that all three were now together in paradise.
Redanies was hanged on top of the porter's lodge at Maidstone Gaol on New Year's Day 1857. The executioner, William Calcraft, fastened his arms with a strap to prevent any struggling, and Redanies' procession started for the gallows. "He appeared little concerned, approaching the scaffold with a cheerful step," one local history site reports. "Once there, he called out 'In a few moments, I shall be in the arms of my dear Caroline. I care not for death'."
When he reached the top of the scaffold steps, another strap was fixed round Redanies' legs, and the rope fastened round his neck. Calcraft then hurried down the steps, withdrew the bolt, and - as the ballad sheet puts it - "the wretched man was launched into eternity".

Dedea Redanies' case produced not only the gallows ballad seen here, but also a folk song called The Folkstone Murders, first collected in 1917. It's mostly found in Kent and Sussex, but is also known as far afield as Greenland and Newfoundland. It's said to be particularly popular among travellers, and is also known as Switzerland John. To hear Andy Turner singing this version of the tale, visit his website here.
George Spicer, a Kentish folk singer who recorded the song in 1959, claimed his grandfather was there at Milton Chapel Farm on August 4, 1856, and watched as Redanies was arrested. Spicer said he was always nervous about singing The Folkstone Murders publicly in Kent, just in case a relative of the Backs' might hear him and take offence.

To hear KingBrilliant sing The Foreigner's Downfall, visit her Soundcloud page here.

Sources and Footnotes
* The Times, August 8, 1856.
* The Times, December 17, 1856.
* The Times, December 20, 1856.
* The Times, December 22, 1856.
* The Times, January 2, 1857.
* The Times, January 9, 1857.
* Life, Trial and Execution of Dedea Redanies for the Murder of Caroline and Maria Back (J. Powell, 1857).
* The Annual Register 1856, edited by Edmund Burke (F&J Rivington, 1857).
* The British Swiss Legion in the Crimean War, by George Hoffman (Antiquarian Society of Zurich, 1942).
* Dover Kent Archives (
* Mudcat Café (

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