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Streams of Crimson Blood: continued

Murder Ballads
Secret London

Edward Hunt, another constable who'd been at the house, produced a broken, blood-smeared brush and a badly-bent iron candlestick which he'd found next to Joliffe's body - both consistent with the beating she'd received. There was no sign of the knife, but police also found a pan full of bloody water in the kitchen, where someone had tried to quickly wash their hands.
Moving upstairs, Martell turned his attention to Langtry. Like Joliffe, the old man had a long, deep cut across his throat and an assortment of facial wounds. On the temples, Martell found two severe bruises and, below them, a wound which punctured the flesh. "The wound below is a wound apparently inflicted with a sharp-pointed instrument, perforating the temporal bone and penetrating the brain," he testified. "This later wound was alone sufficient to occasion death."
Shown the hammer Hendry had found, Martell confirmed it was the murder weapon. "I find the two contused wounds were apparently produced by the face of the hammer, and the wound which penetrated the brain by the sharp-pointed end of the same hammer," he said. "It was covered with blood and had a portion of the brain on it, and also some grey hairs." Joseph Clapshaw, another builder, identified the hammer as one of the tools Langtry had kept at home to lend the workers he employed to keep his properties in good repair.

The hammer police found was covered with blood and still had bits of Langtry's brain stuck to it

News of these grim discoveries soon reached Weeks' barber shop, where young Stacey was back shaving the customers. As the gossip ebbed and flowed about him, he continued with his work, and no-one saw any reason to think he might have been involved. On March 4, the inquest returned a verdict of "willful murder by person or persons unknown".
Soon after this, people started to notice that Stacey was throwing money around. The first evidence came when he bought some wax seals from a Mr Read, who later testified against him in court. "He paid me on the Monday following a sovereign, and had 12 pieces of gold more," Read said. "He offered me first seven shillings, then went on to 13 shillings - I only having asked him 12 shillings and sixpence."
Birt's account notes more suspicious behaviour at Langtry and Joliffe's funeral. "Stacey was observed among the crowd in company with two common girls, and went with them to a public house, where he ordered a chaise and with the girls went into the country," it says. "This came to his master's ears who, with Mr Hunt, followed him." Stacey's master, or course, was Constable Weeks. Hunt was not only a constable in his own right, but also Portsmouth's gaoler.
One of the "common girls" with Stacey was Ann Ingram. "He paid for four pints and a half of gin," she later testified. "He had got some sovereigns. We went to Portsdown. I said to Stacey 'Here is Hunt coming'. He looked out and said 'If Hunt is coming, I am done by God'."
Stacey fled to hide in a back room, but Weeks and Hunt quickly found him there. "We pulled him out and took him to the Shipwright's Arms," Hunt testified. "I searched him, but found nothing. He was then taken before the mayor and asked where he had got the money he had been spending. He said he had saved up four pounds, five shillings and sixpence at different times."
Stacey's father was arrested too, and both men locked up while the investigation continued. A bloody clasp-knife, still with some of the victims' hair stuck on it, was found under the Lions' Gate footbridge, and identified as Stacey's own. Thomas Hill, the turnkey who checked Stacey into prison, found blood on his clothes there. Stacey admitted that he'd been wearing these clothes on the day of the murder, adding that they were the only ones he had.
"He said 'I will tell you the beginning of it'," Hill testified. "He then sat himself down on the stool and said: 'On the night of the murder, when I left my father's house I went to Camden Alley. I met a young man and we went on together to Key Gates. We tossed up which should go into the house. As the young man was to go in, we exchanged clothes under the arch of the Key Gates, which is about a quarter mile from Camden Alley. [...] The young man went into the house, and I returned down White Hart Road into High Street. I later met him in High Street. We then went to the Mill Dam, and there we exchanged clothes again and the young man gave me the money'."
That, according to Stacey, was how the blood had got on his clothes. Hill related the rest of the story as Stacey had told it to him. "After he got the money, he took it to his father's house, and put it into a little box and put it into the dung heap, and did not know but that it was there now," Hill testified. "He said he could not tell who the young man was, for they had kissed the Bible not to tell of each other."
A few days later, Stacey's father told Hill a figure had appeared to him in a dream and urged him to confess the truth. Hill summed up the father's version like this: "That his son came home on the Sunday night and threw a bag of money on the bed; that for some time after, he refused to state how he became possessed of it; that at last he confessed his crime and that the money amounted to 630, which was at first hid in a dung heap at the back of his premises and afterwards removed to a field at some distance."
The day after this discussion, Stacey's father led Hunt to Crocker's Lane in Copnor, about two miles from Portsmouth. "On the right-hand side, a little way up, he pointed out a piece of turf, which I took up and found a hole, and in that hole something tied up in a blue handkerchief," Hunt later explained. "I found it to contain banknotes, gold and a silver watch, in the whole to the amount of 630 odd."
When Stacey Jr heard that his father had shown Hunt where the money was buried, he despaired and offered to tell William Payne, a fellow prisoner, the full story. Stacey still insisted the murder had been carried out by the young man he refused to name, but the account he gave Payne is so detailed and fits the evidence recorded so closely that it strongly suggests a first-hand confession. The "he" Payne talks of here was - according to Stacey - the anonymous young man, but it's more likely the actions were Stacey's own.
"He got in over the pales and into the back door, and saw the old woman coming downstairs with a candle and candlestick in her hand," Payne said. "He caught her by the throat with one hand, threw her down, got the candlestick from her hand, beat it about her head and bent it double. He beat her about the head with a brush till the handle came out, and then broke the handle in three pieces on her head. In his scuffle with her, he lost his knife.
"Then he went upstairs to the old gentleman, caught him by the collar and asked him for his money. The old gentleman struck him once or twice with his stick, and told him to go about his business. He caught hold of him, and then let the old gentleman go. The latter fell out of the chair. He looked round the room, saw a hammer, and then he beat the old gentleman on the head and left him for dead.
"He then put his hand into the old gentleman's pocket, took out a bundle of keys and tried two of them to unlock a chest, Neither of them would do. He then got a third one, which opened it, and he lifted up the till and saw a roll of notes. He took them up, and under the notes was a basin with some gold in it, and he went away out of the house with it.
"He said he went downstairs and saw the old woman struggling in the room below. He searched about, found his knife and cut her throat. He then went back again upstairs and cut the old gentleman's throat. [...] He said while he was cutting the old lady's throat, some person knocked at the door."
That person was presumably Ann Dyatt, calling at the house some time between 6:00 and 7:30 on the fatal evening. I think it's safe to assume the killer she disturbed was Stacey himself, and here's why:

* Stacey's claim that he'd swapped clothes with the young man both before and after the murder is the only way he could explain the blood found on his shirt and trousers. But why would he agree to his clothes being worn during a robbery when this could only implicate him in the crime? And why would he accept and wear the blood-stained clothes after the killing when these could so easily hang him?

* James Hendy testified in court that, long before the robbery, Stacey had mentioned a "misunderstanding" between himself and Langtry about some money which had gone missing from Prospect Road. He told Hendy that he believed Langtry had a bag of money hidden in the house containing about 600.

* In the version of events Stacey offered Payne, he claimed that the killer gave him only "what money he thought proper". And yet, Stacey had charge of the full 630 (about 52,000 today). How likely is it that the killer would have handed over the whole sum when he'd had to do all the dirty work himself?

* It's not clear how his name came to light, but Edmund Burke's Annual Register identifies Stacey's supposed accomplice as William Downer, who the court called to testify. "He satisfactorily proved he was at the Antelope public house from six o'clock in the evening (the supposed time when the murder was committed) until about ten o'clock," Burke says. An alibi can be faked, of course, but my guess is that Stacey fingered an innocent man in a last desperate attempt to avoid execution.

Stacey tried to escape from prison while waiting for his trial, but his plans were discovered and came to nothing. His murder trial took place on July 30, 1829. Hearing all the above evidence, the jury quickly returned a guilty verdict, and he was sentenced to hang on Monday, August 3. His father was convicted of what we'd call aiding and abetting, sentenced to transportation for life, and died on the voyage to Australia.
So great was local outrage at Stacey's crime that a temporary gallows was set up opposite the Langtry house in Prospect Road so that he could be executed at the scene of the crime. "On Monday morning (he) was put into a cart and taken to the fatal spot where, the necessary preparations being complete, he was launched into eternity in the view of an immense number of spectators," Birt reports.

No two sources seem able to agree on the spelling of this case's various surnames. For the sake of consistency, I've used Burke's versions throughout or, where that's not possible, those in the Sydney Gazette.
In a 1906 book called Memorials of Old Hampshire, GE Jeans notes that St Thomas' churchyard in Portsmouth still has a stone marking Langtry and Joliffe's graves there. Stones from that era have now been recycled as paving slabs at St Thomas', and researchers I contacted there were unable to find Langtry and Joliffe's inscription.

To hear Rob Wahl singing Streams of Crimson Blood, visit the Tindeck music hosting page here.

To hear C#Merle perform is own reggae treatment of Streams of Crimson Blood, please visit the Soundcloud page here.

* Particulars of the Trial of John Stacey etc (T. Birt, 1829).
* The Annual Register, Volume 71), by Edmund Burke (Nabu Press, 2010).
* Memoirs of Old Hampshire, by GE Jeans (
* Murders and Moralities: English Catchpenny Prints 1800-1860, by Thomas Gretton (Colonnade Books, 1980).

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