The night of Friday the .3rd of March 1820, was marked by the perpetration of a murder, not exceeded in point of atrocity by any whose circumstances are detailed in our Calendar of Crimes. It bears a striking resemblance to that committed by Hussey; for the victims were an old gentleman and his housekeeper -- a Mr. Thomas Parker, aged seventy, and Sarah Brown, about forty-five years old.
Mr. Parker had been a working jeweller in London, where he had made a fortune sufficient to enable him to retire to Woolwich, where he resided for twenty-three years. His house was situated in Mulgrave-place, Red Lion Street, at a short distance from the Artillery Barracks. He was an inoffensive, gentlemanly man, and was much respected by the whole neighbourhood. At one o'clock on Saturday morning, the 4th of March, the sentinel on duty at the north arch of the Artillery Barracks observed a dense smoke rising from Mr. Parker's house. He gave an alarm; and several of the artillerymen rushed forth, and found the flames bursting from the parlour window. The men rapped at the door with great violence, but no answer was returned. The cry of "Fire" spread; two engines arrived on the spot, and commenced playing into the window. The men then forced the street-door, and rushed into the passage; and from thence they went up stairs into the front room on the first floor. Here the ravages of the fire were perceptible; the furniture of a bed had been partly consumed; but in the bed itself there was no appearance of a human being. The men then ran into the bed-room on the second floor, which was found in flames; but having extinguished them, they continued their search for the inmates of the house; but neither Mr. Parker nor his servant could be found. It was now discovered that the flames were bursting forth with great violence from the parlour below, and that they were spreading rapidly to the upper floor; and every exertion became necessary to procure their suppression. A hole was cut in the floor of the bed-chamber, through which water was poured; and by this means, added to the incessant playing of the engines without, the danger was subdued. In a short time the parlour-door was thrown open, and a man belonging to the artillery having entered, he perceived a heap of something lying behind the door. He attempted to lift it up, when he found it to be the mutilated remains of a human body which was much burnt. A second body, which proved to be that of a female, was found stretched in the same place, although not so much disfigured. A further investigation of the premises now took place, when it was perceived that blankets had been nailed up against every window, as if to conceal the appearance of the flames within. Fire had been communicated in three different places -- the parlour on the ground floor; the bed-chamber on the first floor; and the bed-chamber on the second floor. The drawers about the house were found standing open, and articles of apparel were lying about; and in the kitchen, some silver utensils were strewed on the floor. At break of day the bodies of Mr. Parker and his servant were examined, and it was found that the former was burnt nearly to a cinder; the left leg and foot, on which there was a black silk stocking and a shoe, only remained entire. The skull, however, although the flesh was burnt off, remained whole, and afforded convincing testimony of murder: on the left side, towards the back, there was a terrific fracture. The woman lay stretched upon her face; her apparel was partly consumed, and her hair, which was very long, was hanging around her in matted and dishevelled locks. A horrible wound, apparently inflicted with a blunt instrument, was discovered over her eye, and at the back of her head there were three distinct fractures. The fact that the whole circumstance was the effect of a diabolical plot to murder Mr. Parsons and Mrs. Brown, and to conceal the crime by firing the house, now became obvious; and the utmost exertions were made by the police to apprehend the perpetrators of the foul deed. Several persons, whose conduct was deemed suspicious, were taken into custody; but as the evidence against them was very trifling, they were discharged. At length, however, the real murderer was apprehended at Portsmouth, and several articles of Mr. Parker's property were found in his possession, particularly two watches, some silver spoons, a silver ladle, &c.
This person went at Portsmouth by the name of James Watson, but his real name was James Nesbett. He had been in the artillery for twenty-three years, and after his discharge lived in Woolwich, where his wife kept a chandler's shop. They had five children; the eldest aged eighteen years, and the youngest at this time only sixteen months old. Nesbett himself followed that vicious and dangerous occupation -- smuggling; bringing lace, silk, &c. from France, and carrying back other contraband goods from this country. In pursuit of this traffic he stopped some time at Portsmouth, where he cohabited with a girl of the town, who was afterwards the principal witness against him.
While sleeping with this girl she observed him to be very much troubled in his mind, as he frequently started in his sleep, and sometimes terrified her; so much so, that she left him on that account only. He, however, allured her back by presents; and, to account for the unnatural agitation in his sleep, he told her that he had killed two men in a duel, and one woman with a blow; and also promised to communicate another important secret to her. From this he was prevented by his being taken into custody; but he had already told her enough to induce the strongest suspicions as to his guilt.
When brought to Woolwich the people received him with a shout of exultation -- a circumstance which affected him so much, that he was obliged to be carried before the justices, who were then sitting. He denied the crime with which he was charged; but after his committal to Maidstone, he confessed that he had been privy to it, having stood sentinel at the door while the work of destruction was going on inside. His accomplices he stated to have been old soldiers, whom he did not know -- a tale as improbable as untrue; for it was distinctly proved that he was himself the only person engaged.
Nesbett's trial came on July the 28th 1820, when his guilt was established by a chain of circumstantial evidence so conclusive, that the jury did not hesitate many minutes about their verdict'.
In addition to other facts proved against him, it appeared that when he first visited Portsmouth, he was remarked for possessing excellent sight, but that after the murder he wore, whenever he appeared abroad, spectacles -- the identical pair he had taken from Mr. Parker. In addition to the spectacles, he wore different dresses to disguise himself; but, notwithstanding all his caution, he was known, and apprehended; not, however, without much difficulty, for he attempted to shoot the officers, having a case of pistols loaded to the muzzle. Fortunately he was prevented from firing, and thus was preserved from having an additional murder to answer for.
Nesbett's countenance indicated great firmness of purpose, but nothing of atrocity. During his trial he showed great fortitude and self-possession, which was not disturbed by his hearing the awful sentence of the law, which consigned him to an ignominious death.
This wretched criminal was executed according to his sentence on Pennenden Heath, July the 31st 1820. It is gratifying to know that, in the interval which elapsed between his condemnation and execution, he acknowledged the justice of his sentence.