07 April 1819
KINGSTON, (SURREY), APRIL 6.
Thomas; Osborne was indicted for the wilful murder of Eli Cox, on the 2d of August last, at Epsom, in this county. The indictment, which was extremely long, and contained several counts, charged the death of the deceased to have been produced in three different ways - by striking with a stick, cutting, with a knife, and strangling by means of a stick and a handkerchief.
The trial of this case excited an uncommon degree of interest, from its singular circumstances, and the barbarous manner in which the deceased was murdered.
The prosecution was conducted by Mr. GURNEY, Mr. BOLLAND, and Mr. ADOLPHUS.
It is unnecessary to enter into a full detail of the evidence which was adduced on the part of the prosecution, and in the defence.
The trial lasted from 9 o'clock in the morning until past five in the evening. The following were the most important features of the case. The deceased, a youth, about 19 years of age, was employed In the service of Mr. Tessier, of Woodcot-park, near Epsom, as under game-keeper. On Saturday evening, the 1st of August last, he had supped with his fellow servants at his master's home, and about 10 o'clock he loaded his pistol from a powder horn, which his master had given him, and went out for the purpose of sleeping at his master's farm-house. announcing his intention of being up at an early hour the next morning to look out for poachers. He was heard to go out of the farm-house, which was near his master's mansion, about three o'clock on the Sunday morning. He, however, did not make his appearance in the breakfast-hall, as usual nor at church with the rest of the servants; and being still absent at the dinner hour, the latter became alarmed, and would not sit down to their meal until some inquiry - was made about him. Several persons went in different directions, and in a very short time his body was found in the wood-yard of Sir Gilbert Heathcote which adjoined Mr. Tessier's premises, exhibiting unquestionable appearances of violence and murder. On examining his body, there was found round his neck his own silk neckkerchief, containing the stiffener, tied behind in a great number of knots, and, twisted in such a manner as to reduce his neck to the size of a man's wrist; and in the twisting was inserted a piece of stick, so as to form what the seamen call a Spanish windlass. He was lying then upon his back, with his legs crossed, so that it was quite evident he must have been upon his face when the neckkerchief was tied in the manner above described. His right arm, between the wrist and the elbow, was fractured; in the Inner part of the same arm was a long, deep, incised wound; but the coat which covered it was untouched by the weapon, and the shirt wrist remained buttoned. The inside of the hand of the same arm had a deep gash across the fingers, as if a knife had been drown through it; and the little finger of the left hand was nearly severed from the limb. On the left side of the head there was a severe wound, but not so severe as to have produced death; and in the opinion of the surgeon who was examined, the death was produced by strangulation. On searching about the wood-yard the flick of a hare was strewed about the ground, indicating that the deceased had been engaged in a conflict with some person who had. been poaching. Near to the body was the pistol of the deceased, the stock of which was broken, and its contents discharged; and at a few yards distant was an odd sock made out of an old hat. Upon the gate which led from the wood-yard were the marks of bloody fingers, as of a person who had escaped that way; and near the gate was found a clasped knife, covered with blood, and which evidently must have fallen from the murderer in his retreat. These were the principal circumstances touching the causes of death to the deceased.
The facts charged against the prisoner to support the indictment were these:-The prisoner lived in a cottage about 40 yards from Sir Gilbert Heathcote's wood-yard, where the body of the deceased was found, there was a mode of communication from the back part of the cottage to the spot where the body was discovered. On Sunday morning, the 2d of August about 6 o'clock, the prisoner came home to his cottage, and was seen by his next door neighbour, who observed him from his window, to be in a very great heat, and sweating profusely from his forehead. In the course of that morning he was seen to take some water in a wash keel, and shut himself up in his house, and afterwards hung his shirt and neckcloth out to dry; upon which articles of apparel were afterwards observed by the same neighbour faint marks of blood. The prisoner, who was a journeyman gardener, had on the following day been set to work by the person by whom he was employed, to cut strawberry-roots; but instead of employing the clasp knife which he was accustomed to use, be performed his work with a case-knife. The bloody knife which was found as above-mentioned resembled that which the prisoner usually carried about him. The prisoner had been a seaman and as the knot which, had been tied round the neck of the deceased was what is called a granny knot which could only have been made by a person who had been at sea, or had been taught to make it by a seamen, it was urged as matter of inference amongst other circumstances, as proof of guilt against the prisoner. When the prisoner's house was searched three hat-socks were found, one of which completely matched, in point of appearance and texture, with that which had been picked up near the body of the deceased. On the Sunday morning after the murder the prisoner's forehead was observed to be scratched, as if it had come in contact with some bushes; and upon being asked to account for the scratches, he said, that on Sunday morning he had got into one of his apple trees, for the purpose of gathering some fruit, to take to his father and that one of the branches giving way, he fell into a gooseberry-bush, and thereby scratched his face. On the Tuesday he told the same story, but described the accident to have taken place on the Monday morning. His garden had been examined by Mr. Howarth, the Member of Parliament but no traces could then be found of any gooseberry bush or apple-tree having been injured in the branches, as must have been the ease if the prisoner had fallen as he had represented. Whereas, on the Tuesday the prisoner pointed out where a currant, and not a gooseberry-bush, had been broken in the branches, and had then been recently tied up; but the branches were not withered, which would probably have been the case had they have been broken on the Sunday morning, in the then hot weather. Mr. Howarth, however, positively swore that he did not observe the same currant-bush to have been broken when he examined it on the Monday. Another circumstance of suspicion alleged against the prisoner was, that on the Sunday morning, about 9 o'clock he came out of his house, and was met without any stockings upon him, and upon being asked why he so appeared he said the reason was, that he could not find a pair of stockings handy. Under the prisoner's bed between the sacking and the mattress, were found a pair of faded gray pantaloons and an old waistcoat, upon each of which appeared visible marks of blood, which were considerably faded. Within a few inches of the prisoner's garden fence was found the powder-flask of the deceased, stained with blood. These were the principal circumstances adduced in evidence to sustain the inference of the prisoner's guilt.
Mr. COMMON-SERGEANT and Mr. CURWOOD conducted the prisoner's defence.
The prisoner, who was a very well looking man, about six feet high, and who, during the whole time, was cool and collected, and betrayed. no other anxiety than another man in the like perilous situation, put in a written defence, which was extremely well drawn up, (we presume by his solicitor, Mr. Harman), and which stated that on the Sunday morning in question, the prisoner had risen about six o'clock, and had gone into his garden and gathered some apples; and in doing so had fallen from the tree, by which means be
had scratched his face against a gooseberry bush. He then took I the apples to his father's, where he remained half an hour and then returned to his own, house, where he remained the whole day. He totally disclaimed any knowledge of the cause of death to the deceased, for whom he had the highest respect, and would be the last man in the world to injure him, still less would he disposed to commit upon him the foul crime of murder. With respect to the clothes found under his bed, he said, that they had lain by there for six or seven months as old and useless, and no longer capable of being worn, as he had grown lusty in his person, and could not put them on. He admitted that he was in the habit of wearing socks made from old hats, as poor people in the country were accustomed to do; but knew nothing whatever of the odd sock which had been found in Sir Gilbert Heathcote's wood-yard. As to the bloody knife and the powder-flask he knew nothing of them, and he conjured the jury to dismiss from their minds those prejudices which some persons had taken great pains to excite against him; relying upon the intelligence and discernment of the court and jury to relieve him from the heavy consequences of a charge of which he was innocent, and which was abhorrent to his nature.
Several witnesses were examined, whose evidence was perfectly compatible with the prisoner's statement. Two of them deposed, that that the man Page, who spoke to the fact of the prisoner having been seen on the Sunday morning, in a state of perspiration, was not to be believed upon his oath; and all the witnesses gave the prisoner a good character for humanity and general good conduct. The other circumstances which appeared in evidence favourable to the prisoner's innocence were, that the witness, Page, never mentioned a single word of the material part of his evidence until after his second examination, and until after a reward of £200 had been offered for the detection and conviction of the murderer. That the prisoner, after his first examination, had been discharged by the Magistrates, and remained at large, without any attempt on his part to fly from justice; that, in point of fact, the pantaloons and waistcoat said to have been stained with blood, had been for seven months previous to the murder in the same situation in which they were found.
Mr. Justice PARK summed up the case for the Jury with the greatest perspicuity, and with his wonted regard and humanity for the interests of the accused, in all cases which come before him, cautioned them against anything like prejudice, and impressing upon them the necessity of deciding the question of guilt or innocence in this case according to the facts proved in the evidence.
The Jury, after deliberating for about five minutes, returned their verdict - Not Guilty.
The prisoner retired from the bar, unmoved by the result of the trail.