This extraordinary and most horrid case, which for a considerable time excited a very great degree of interest in the county of Warwick, where it occurred, and which in many respects much resembles that of Abraham Thornton and Mary Ashford, occurred at a place named Bishop's Itchington, near Harbury-field. The trial came on at Warwick on Friday, August 24th, 1827, when the prisoner William Miller, who was a man thirty-five years of age, was indicted for the wilful murder of Mary Ann Lane, on the night of the 26th of May, by casting her into a pond at Harbury. The material facts which were proved in evidence, were that the prisoner was a labourer, in the service of Mr. Heath, a farmer, at Harbury; and that the deceased had been formerly a wet-nurse in that gentleman's family, being married to a labourer in the same employment. On the 26th of May, Mr. Heath gave an entertainment to all the servants, labourers, and other persons, who were then, or who had been previously employed by him. The prisoner, the deceased, and the husband of the latter were at the entertainment, and some conversation took place between the two former persons with regard to the return home of the female. At about a quarter before eight, the deceased started on her way home, taking the accustomed path into the high-road leading towards Bishop's Itchington, which was situated at a distance of about two miles. The prisoner was then talking with a man named Bentley, and remarking the departure of the woman, he said "he'd be d--d if he didn't go home with her;" and going away, he took a short cut across the fields, so as to intercept her in the high road. From this time nothing was seen of him until ten o'clock at night; and then he was near his own residence at Harbury, which was about a mile nearer to Mr. Heath's than Bishop's Itchington, but lay a considerable distance to the left of the road leading to that place. Mrs. Lane did not return home that night; but the murder was not discovered until the following day, when Mr. Abraham Pratt was passing over Harbury-heath, in company with his brother, and he saw something black in a pond there, and an umbrella sticking up above the surface. His brother also picked up a pair of pattens; and then, upon their raking out the black substance which they had seen, they found it to be the clothes, covering the murdered body of Mary Anne Lane. Upon their examining the spot, they observed appearances, as if some struggling had taken place, and they also saw marks in the clay of a man's boots, and of what seemed to be knees, covered by corduroy trousers. The body of the deceased was removed from the pond, and upon an examination taking place, little doubt was left, that the unhappy woman had been violated, and then barbarously murdered. In the course of the day, the prisoner was taken into custody by direction of Mr. Heath, when he admitted having accompanied the deceased as far as the gate leading to the heath; but declared that he had there quitted her, and had returned home by the foot-path. His house was afterwards searched, and a pair of corduroy trousers was found steeped in a tub of water. Upon the shoes, which he wore on the previous day, being demanded, he took them from his feet, and their soles were found to correspond exactly with the footmarks in the neighbourhood of the pond. The prisoner was then conveyed in custody to the New Inn, and there a long conversation took place with regard to his family. He repeatedly admitted that he had "done it," and expressed some anxiety to know whether, if he pleaded guilty, he should escape transportation. On his being conveyed to Warwick jail, he declared, that it was drink that had instigated him to the deed. He said that on his going from Mr. Heath's house, he met the deceased and accompanied her as far as Harbury's Poor Piece, that he there offered some familiarities to her, but that she was very awkward, and would not consent, on account of his being so drunk; with that he caught hold of her, and threw her down, and she began to make a noise. He put his hand upon her neck to prevent her from hooting, and scratched it, and she fainted away. He was frightened and carried her down to the pit, and threw her in. She revived and came to the edge of the pit, but he caught hold of her and threw her in again, falling in with her. He was up to his middle in water, and he held her head down till she was dead, and then he came out of the pit very much frightened. Upon this the prisoner was fully committed for trial.
The circumstances already detailed having been proved in evidence before the jury, a verdict of Guilty was immediately returned, and the wretched man received sentence of death.
He was executed in pursuance of his sentence on the 27th of August, 1827, professing sincere repentance of the crime of which he had been guilty.