Executed, 31st of July, 1807, for murdering her Husband in a Cottage near Attleborough, Norfolk
THE trial of Martha Alden on a charge of murder came on at the Summer Assizes for the county of Norfolk, in the year 1807. Samuel Alden, the victim of her brutality, was a husbandman, occupying a small cottage near Attleborough, in that county, and was accounted a quiet, industrious character.
Edmund Draper stated that on Saturday, the 18th of July, he was in company with the deceased at the White Horse public-house at Attleborough; that the prisoner, who was present when witness and the deceased met, said to them she was going home with her child, and went away. Witness sat drinking with Alden till nearly twelve o'clock, chatting with the wife of the publican; he then accompanied the deceased to his house, which lay on the way to his own home. Witness stated that he himself was perfectly sober at the time; that Alden, however, was rather fresh, but sober enough to walk, staggering a little. No ill words passed between the deceased and the prisoner in his presence. He proceeded home in the direction of Thetford, and saw no one on the road. Alden's house consisted of a kitchen and bedroom, both on the same floor, and separated from each other by a small narrow passage. He saw no one in the house except the prisoner and the deceased, and a little boy about seven years old.
Charles Hill, of Attleborough, stated that on the morning of Sunday, the 19th, he rose between two and three o'clock to go on a journey to Shelf Anger Hall, about ten miles from Attleborough, to see a daughter. When he approached the deceased's house he saw the door open, and the prisoner was standing within a few yards of the door; this was at nearly three o'clock in the morning. The prisoner accosted the witness, by saying she could not think what smart young man it was who was coming down the common. The witness replied: "Martha, what the devil are you up to at this time of the morning?" She said she had been down to the pit in her garden for some water; this garden was on the opposite side of the road to the house.
Sarah Leeder, widow, of Attleborough, stated that on Monday night, the 20th of July, the prisoner came to her house to borrow a spade, for a neighbour's sow had broken into her garden and rooted up her potatoes. The witness lent her one, which was marked J.H., and she went away with it. On the following evening (Tuesday, 21st), about eleven o'clock, she went out of her house upon the common to look for some ducks she had missed, and found them in a small pit; near this pit there was another of a larger size, beside a place called Wright's Plantation. In this greater pit, or pond, she saw something lying which attracted her attention; she went to the edge of the pond and touched it with a stick, upon which it sank and rose again; but the place, though the moon shone, was shaded, and she could not discover what it was, so went home for the night. The next morning (Wednesday, 22nd), however, the witness returned to the spot, and again touched the substance with a stick, which still lay almost covered with water; she then, to her great terror, saw the two hands of a man appear, with the arms of a shirt stained with blood. She instantly concluded that a murdered man had been thrown in there, and called to a lad to go and acquaint the neighbourhood with the circumstances, and went back in great alarm to her own house. In a quarter of an hour she returned again to the pond, and found that in her absence the body had been taken out. She then knew it to be the body of Samuel Alden. His face was dreadfully chopped, and his head cut very nearly off. The body was put into a cart and carried to the house of the deceased. The witness afterwards went to look for her spade, and found it standing by the side of a hole, which she described as looking like a grave, dug in the ditch which surrounded Alden's garden. She further stated that this hole was open, not very deep, and that she saw blood lying near it.
Edward Rush stated that on Wednesday morning (the 22nd of July), by order of the constable of Attleborough parish, he searched the prisoner's residence. In a dark chamber he found a bill-hook, which on examination appeared to have blood on its handle, and also on the blade, but looked as if it had been washed. He also confirmed the statement of a preceding witness as to the state of the bedroom in the house of the deceased, and described its dimensions to be about seven feet by ten.
Mary Orvice stated that she had been acquainted with the prisoner for some time, and had frequently been at her house. On Sunday (the 19th) the prisoner asked her to go with her to her house. When she got there, the prisoner said to her: "I have killed my husband"; and, taking her into the bedroom, showed her the body lying on the bed, quite dead, with the wounds as before described; she also saw a hook lying on the floor with blood on it. When the hook was shown to her in court, she said it was the very same she had then seen. The prisoner then produced a common corn sack, and, at her request, the witness held it whilst the prisoner put the body into it; the prisoner then carried the body from the bedroom, through the passage and kitchen, out of the house, across the road to the ditch surrounding the garden, and left it there, after throwing some mould over it. The witness then left the prisoner and went to Larling. The prisoner slept that night at the witness's father's house. On the following night (the 20th), between nine and ten o'clock, the witness was again in the company of the prisoner, and saw her remove the body of her husband (who was a small man) from the ditch in the garden to the pit on the common, dragging it herself along the ground in the sack; and when she arrived at the pit, the prisoner shot the body into it out of the sack, which she afterwards carried away with her. The deceased had a shirt and slop on. The next morning (Tuesday) the witness went to the prisoner's house and assisted in cleaning it up, taking some warm water and washing and scraping the wall next the bed. The prisoner bade the witness to be sure not to say a word about the matter; for, if she did, she (the witness) would certainly be hanged. Upon being questioned to that effect by the Judge, this witness further stated that she had told the story to her father on the Tuesday night, but to nobody else.
The learned judge then summed up the evidence in a very full and able manner. On the subject of Mary Orvice's testimony, his Lordship remarked that it certainly came under great suspicion, as being that of an accessory to the attempted concealment of the murder. Viewing it in that light, therefore, and taking it separately, it was to be received with extreme caution; but if it should be found, in most material facts, to agree with and corroborate the successive statements of the other witnesses, whose declarations did not labour under those disadvantages, the jury were then to give it due weight and avail themselves of the information which it threw on the transaction.
The jury consulted together for a short time, and found the prisoner guilty. Whereupon the learned judge proceeded to pass upon her the awful sentence of the law; which was, that on Friday she should be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till she was dead, and her body afterwards to be dissected. She confessed the crime for which she was to suffer, and acknowledged that the girl (Orvice) had no concern whatever in the murder, but only assisted, at her request, in putting the body of her husband into the sack.
On Friday, 31st of July, at twelve o'clock, this unhappy female was drawn on a hurdle, and executed on the castle hill, pursuant to her sentence, in presence of an immense concourse of spectators. She behaved at the fatal tree with the decency becoming her awful situation