Tried for Forgery and acquitted
On the 8th of December, 1775, Margaret Caroline Rudd was indicted for feloniously forging a bond, purporting to be signed by William Adair, and for feloniously uttering and publishing the same.
Having been brought to the bar in September sessions, to plead to the said indictment, and her counsel contending that she ought not to be tried, as she had acknowledged herself an accomplice, and had been admitted an evidence by the magistrates; and the judges 'differing in opinion on the point of law: reference was had to the opinion of all the judges, that the matter might be finally settled, how far, under what circumstances, and in what manner, an accomplice, received as a witness, ought to be entitled to favour and mercy.'
Mr justice Aston now addressed the prisoner, informing her that eleven of the judges had met (the chief justice of the Common Pleas being indisposed), 'and were unanimous in opinion, that, in cases not within any statute, an accomplice, who fully discloses the joint guilt of himself and his companions, and is admitted by justices of the peace as a witness, and who appears to have acted a fair and ingenuous part in the disclosure of all the circumstances of the cases in which he has been concerned, ought not to be prosecuted for the offences so by him confessed, but cannot by law plead this in bar of any indictment, but merely as an equitable claim to mercy from the crown: and nine of the judges were of opinion, that all the circumstances relative to this claim ought to be laid before the court, to enable the judges to exercise their discretion, whether the trial should proceed or not. With respect to the case before them, the same nine judges were of opinion, that if the matter stood singly upon the two informations of the prisoner, compared with the indictments against her, she ought to have been tried upon all, or any of them, for from her informations she is no accomplice: she exhibits a charge against Robert and Daniel Perreau, the first soliciting her to imitate the hand-writing of William Adair, the other forcing her to execute the forgery under the threat of death. Her two informations are contradictory: if she has suppressed the truth, she has no equitable claim to favour; and if she has told the truth, and the whole truth, she cannot be convicted. As to the indictments preferred against her by Sir Thomas Frankland, as her informations before the justices have no relation to his charges, she can claim no sort of advantage from these informations.'
The trial was now proceeded on. The principal evidences were, the wife of Robert Perreau, and John Moody, a servant to Daniel. The first endeavoured to prove that the bond was published, the latter that it was forged. Sir Thomas Frankland proved that he had lent money on the bond. It was objected by the counsel for the prisoner, that Mrs Perreau was an incompetent witness, as she would be interested in the event; but the court over-ruled this objection.
Mrs Perreau deposed, that, on the 24th of December, she saw Mrs Rudd deliver a bond to her husband, which he laid on the table while he brushed his coat; that it was for L.5,300 payable to Robert Perreau, and signed William Adair; and that it was witnessed in the names of Arthur Jones and Thomas Start, or Hart. Mrs Perreau being asked when she again saw the bond, said it was brought to her on the 8th of March (the day after her husband was convicted), when she selected it from other bonds delivered to him on the 24th of December. She made her mark on it and deposed that, when it was delivered to Mr Perreau, Mrs Rudd said, 'Mr Adair would be very much obliged to Mr Perreau to try to raise upon that bond the sum of L.4,000 of Sir Thomas Frankland.'
Serjeant Davy cross-examined Mrs Perreau. She acknowledged that till the 24th of December she had never seen a bond in her life, and that, on her first sight of that in question, she had no suspicion 'that anything was wrong.' Being asked how she could recollect, at the distance of three months, the names, the sum, and the several circumstances respecting the bond, she said, 'I have the happiness to have a good memory.' Being asked if she had not examined the other bonds at the same time, she said, she had. It was demanded if her memory had retained the date or sum in any other paper produced to her. She replied, 'I do not remember.'
John Moody, who had been servant with Mrs Rudd, deposed that his mistress wrote two different hands, a common and a feigned one; that in her common hand she noted the usual business of the house; but that, when she wrote letters as coming from William Adair, she wrote her feigned hand. A bond signed William Adair was now shewn him; and he said, 'the name appears to be the same hand the letters were wrote in, which I gave to Daniel Perreau, as coming from Mr William Adair, and which I saw Mrs Rudd write the directions of.' He was asked if he thought Mr Adair's name was of the prisoner's writing. He replied, 'I believe it is her hand-writing.' On his cross-examination he owned that he had never seen Mrs Rudd write Mr Adair's name.
Thus stood the evidence. Sir Thomas Frankland proved the lending Robert Perreau L.4,000 on the bond in question, and that he had given him a draught for L.3,890, deducting the discount of L.5,000 formerly lent, with the discount of the money then borrowed, and L.15 10s. for a lottery ticket: that he had since received, among other things, jewels to the value of L.2,800, with women's wearing-apparel, &c., which might, for what he knew, be the prisoner's, but were sold to him by the two Perreaus by a bill of sale.
Christian Hart deposed, that she had received a paper from the prisoner, tending to prove that there was a combination against her life to have been concerted at the house of this witness, by Sir Thomas Frankland and the friends of the Perreaus. Our readers will give what credit they please to this evidence.
It was now demanded of Mrs Rudd, what she would say in her defence. She addressed the jury in a short, but sensible speech, and concluded in these words, 'Gentlemen, ye are honest men, and I am safe in your hands.'
The jury, after a short consultation, gave their verdict in the following singular, and perhaps unprecedented words: 'According to the evidence before us, NOT GUILTY.'
The verdict was no sooner given, than Mrs Rudd quitted the court, and retired to the house of a friend at the west end of the town.
There is a mystery in the story of the brothers Perreau, and Mrs Rudd, that no person but the latter can clear up. We are told that she is yet living; but we hope that, before she quits this world, she will discover the secrets of a transaction concerning which the public opinion has been so much divided. The Perreaus were guilty, or they were not; and it is only from Mrs Rudd the truth can be known. A declaration of the fact, if she was guilty, could not now affect her, as she was acquitted by the laws of her country.