Executed at York, for a most cruel and deliberate Murder of a Servant-Girl
JOHN ROBINSON was a substantial farmer at Mickleby, near Whitby, in the county of York; and Susannah Wilson, the deceased, had formerly lived with him as servant, but afterwards went to reside with a relation at Guisborough. This poor girl left her friends at Guisborough on the morning of the day in the evening of which, there is every reason to believe, she was murdered (though her body was not found till upwards of five weeks afterwards), alleging that she was going to see her master, who had promised to meet her with a bushel of wheat; but previous to her setting out she told them (to use her own language) a fear had come that morning, and that if anything but good came to her they were to look to nobody but Robinson.
Some weeks having elapsed without any tidings being received of her, it was conjectured she had been murdered; and as she had left Guisborough to proceed towards Mickleby (a distance of twelve miles) for the avowed purpose of meeting Robinson, suspicion naturally fell upon him. This mysterious affair having become a common topic of conversation, on Good Friday several country people made a strict search for the body, which they at last found buried in a part of Robinson's ground. Robinson's servant deposed that his master left home about five o'clock in the evening of the day on which the girl left Guisborough, and told his family he was going to Straiths, about four miles distant. It appeared that he arrived at Straiths about half-past nine, and slept there that night; so he must have proceeded to that place immediately after he had perpetrated the murder. The unhappy victim was, at that time, in an advanced state of pregnancy.
Other evidence was adduced which left no doubt of his guilt in the minds of the jury, who brought in their verdict accordingly; and he immediately received sentence of death. He still, however, persisted in his innocence; until the compunctions of conscience, in the condemned cell, drew from him a full confession of his crime. He there acknowledged that the unfortunate victim of his lust and cruelty met him, according to appointment, in his own grounds, near the spot where the body was found; that he and this ill-fated young woman walked together nearly an hour, conversing on the subject for which she had met him. During this conversation, though he had met her fully determined to effect her death, he more than once relented of his cruel purpose. He, however, resisted these compunctious visitings of nature, and fortified himself in his murderous purpose.
About eight o'clock they sat down together: the deceased continued frequently to lament in the most affecting terms her unhappy situation, unconscious of the fate that awaited her. At this moment the prisoner stole unobserved behind her and, with an axe he had previously furnished himself with, gave her a mortal blow on the back of the head, which penetrated through the skull to the brain, and instantly killed her; but the prisoner, to make more sure of her death, mangled her dead body with the murderous axe, inflicting now on her lifeless corpse many deep wounds. The body was then deposited by him in the place where it was afterwards found, covered with whins. The prisoner after his confession seemed relieved of a great weight, and the ordinary said he never witnessed so great a change in any criminal.
About eleven o'clock on the Monday the sheriff, accompanied by his attendants, went to the castle to demand the prisoner; and a few moments after he appeared, accompanied by the clergyman and the officers of justice, on the fatal platform. The unhappy man appeared extremely agitated, and trembled excessively. After joining in prayer with the ordinary, he prayed by himself for a few moments with great earnestness. The executioner then proceeded to his office, and in a moment the fall of the platform terminated his mortal existence. He died instantly.
He was a tall, stout man, thirty-three years of age, and left a widow and four young children to lament his untimely and ignominious exit from the stage of life. His body was delivered to the surgeons for dissection.