On Monday, the 12th of May 1834, Mr, Gee, a respectable solicitor at Bishop's Stortford, appeared before the magistrates at Lambeth-street police-office, to prefer a complaint of a most extraordinary description.
It appeared from his statement that he had been professionally retained for the estate of a gentleman named Canning, deceased, who at his death had bequeathed a life-interest in a sum of 2000l. to his widow, the principal of which, at her death, was directed to descend to his three children. Mr. Gee's occupation had been, under the direction of the executors of Mr. Canning's will, to invest in good securities the amount thus bequeathed, with a view to as good a rate of interest being procured upon it as was possible. A sum of 1200l. had been already invested, and 800l. only remained in his possession, which he had deposited in the hands of his bankers, Messrs. Gibson and Co., of Saffron Walden, for security. A few days before, he had received a letter signed "W. Heath," the writer of which professed his desire to have a personal communication with him in London, upon the subject of certain landed property which was for sale in the neighbourhood of Bishop's Stortford. He returned an answer, announcing his intention to visit London on that day (the 12th of May), and expressing his willingness to meet Mr. Heath in the coffee-room of the Bull Inn, Aldgate, at ten o'clock in the morning. Having received no negative reply, he accordingly proceeded to the Bull Inn at the appointed hour, and found a young man in the garb of a sailor waiting to see him. He presented him with a letter in the same handwriting as that which had been before delivered to him, and signed with the same name, in which he was requested to accompany the bearer in a coach, which had been prepared, to the residence of the writer, who was too ill to attend the appointment which had been made, an assurance being given of a desire to afford every assistance to Mr. Gee with a view to the saving of his time. On his reading the letter he had no hesitation in complying with the wish which was expressed, and the messenger having conducted him to a coach, he immediately entered it and was driven off. The carriage proceeded along the Commercial-road, and at length drew up at the house No.27, York-street West.
On his quitting the vehicle and entering the house, a person met him in the passage, who told him that his brother was in the kitchen at his breakfast, but suggested that he would not, perhaps, have any objection to go there to him. The door was at this moment closed and the coach driven off, and, as he was about to descend the stairs, he was suddenly seized by the man who had delivered the letter to him, and who had followed him into the house, by the man who had accosted him in the passage, and by a third person, who made his appearance from below. Alarmed at this proceeding, he made considerable resistance; but, in spite of all his exertions, he was carried into the back kitchen, and from thence into a species of cupboard, or den, where he was instantly placed upon a seat and securely fastened. A chain, fixed to staples at his back, passed round his chest, under his arms, and was padlocked on the left side; and his feet being secured with cords, were so tightly bound to rings in the floor, as to prevent the possibility of his moving them. Having been thus confined, one of the party addressed him, and representing himself as the brother of Mrs. Canning, demanded that he should immediately give him a check for the 800l. of her money which he had in his possession, as well as an order, upon the presentment of which he might procure the delivery to him of the bond for 1200l. invested for her benefit and that of her children. Now for the first time informed of the object of his assailants, he remonstrated with them upon the illegality of their proceeding, and entreated them to release him. They answered, that they were quite aware that what they had done was contrary to law, but that they were resolved to brave the consequences, and that not only would they retain him in his present situation until he had complied with the demand which they had made, but until they had actually obtained the money and the deed.
They were then about to leave him, and lock him in the horrible den in which he had been confined, where he would be left in utter darkness, when, on reflection, he became apprehensive that, if he made any attempt to give an alarm or to procure assistance they might return and murder him, and calling them back he notified, that he was willing to comply with their demands. Pen, ink, and paper, were, in consequence, brought, and he wrote a check on his bankers for 800l., and a letter directed to Mr. Bell, at Newport, Essex, requesting the delivery of the deed in his possession to the bearer, for the inspection of Mrs. Canning.
The person, who had described himself as Mrs. Canning's brother, on receiving these documents immediately quitted the house, and being left by the other men also, the door of his cage standing open, he began to meditate upon the possibility of his escape. For three hours he found every effort which he made unavailing; but at length he succeeded, by a violent exertion, in shifting the iron chain which encompassed his chest a little upwards, and in freeing his body from it. Thus at liberty he was able to reach his feet, and he soon liberated his legs from the cords by which they were confined. His only remaining effort now was to quit the house; and stealthily making his way out of the back-kitchen into the garden, he succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the two remaining men, who were at dinner in the front kitchen, and escaped over the garden-wall into an adjoining street. He instantly despatched messengers to Mr. Bell, and to Messrs. Gibson's bank, with instructions not to obey the orders which he had signed, and then made the best of his way to the police-office to describe the treatment to which he had been subjected.
Mr. Walker, the magistrate, immediately afforded Mr. Gee every assistance in his power, and despatched Lea and Shelswell, two active officers of the establishment, to York-street, in order that they might apprehend the parties concerned in this most extraordinary conspiracy. On their reaching the house, however, they found that it had been already vacated, and that it was closed. An entry was soon forced, and then they discovered that the house had evidently been taken solely for the purpose of effecting the outrage which had recently been committed in it. It was devoid of any furniture, with the exception of a few chairs in the kitchen, and a blind to the window of the same room. The den, in which Mr, Gee had been confined, was situated in the back-kitchen; it was partitioned off from the room with boards of an immense thickness and strength. Its dimensions were about five feet by three, and outside the immediate walls of the cell, and within another exterior partition, a large quantity of earth had been placed, so as effectually to prevent any sounds emitted within from escaping or being heard in any of the neighbouring houses. The interior of the cell resembled a privy in its structure, although it had evidently been built expressly for the purpose for which it had been used. There was a seat at an elevation of about two feet from the ground, and at the back, about a foot above the seat, was securely fixed a strong bar of wood to which the chain with which Mr. Gee had been confined was still suspended, in the same state as that in which he had left it. On the floor there was also another bar of wood securely fixed; and attached to this were two swivels, through which a large quantity of sash line, which had been employed in binding the feet of Mr. Gee, passed. On inquiries being made in the neighbourhood, it was learned that the occupants of the house had only entered upon its possession on the previous Saturday; and that immediately after Mr. Gee had escaped, two men were seen in the garden anxiously looking right and left, as if in search of some person, and that on their being asked what they wanted, they declared that they were in pursuit of a thief who had escaped. They were observed to leave the house immediately afterwards.
The subsequent investigation of this singular affair induced a belief, that the person who had represented himself to Mr. Gee as the brother of Mrs. Canning, was a man named Edwards, who was blind, and who had taken the house of Mr. Wych the landlord. It was ascertained that Edwards was in the habit of visiting Mrs. Canning at her residence at No.4, Providence-row; and after a short interval he was observed to quit that house, and was taken into custody. The apprehension of Peter Lecasser, his wife, Mary Lecasser, and Jeremiah Weedon, soon after took place, as they were about to enter the house in York-street; and the prisoners were on Tuesday morning taking before the magistrates. Mrs. Lecasser, it then appeared, was the sister of Edwards, and her husband and Weedon had been employed by him to assist him in his attack upon Mr. Gee. Edwards, it was proved, had admitted when he was taken into custody, that he had been the prime mover in this conspiracy; that he had tried by all legal means to get the money from Mr. Gee, and that having failed, he had determined upon procuring it at all hazards.
While the prisoners were under examination, a singular fact developed itself. The Rev. D. Mathias, rector of the parish of Whitechapel, recognised Edwards as having been recently married by him in the name of Heath, to a female named Elizabeth Jenkins, who, however, from the description given of Mrs. Canning, he was now induced to believe was that person. Edwards, upon being questioned, hesitated to admit the truth of this assertion, but made no attempt to deny that the statement made by Mr. Gee was correct. He made every effort to exculpate his fellow-defendants, declaring that they had been employed by him, and that he alone was to blame. Weedon, who was a smith by trade, had built the cell, and both he and Lecasser had acted entirely under his orders. He said, that he was acquainted with Mrs. Canning, and that he had become known to her about two years before, from his being recommended to her to tune her piano, an occupation which he followed for his own support.
On Wednesday the prisoners were again brought up, and on this occasion Mrs. Canning was in attendance. The three men were distinctly identified by Mr. Gee, as the parties by whom he had been assaulted; and Mrs. Canning was also recognised by Mr. Mathias, as the person whom he had united to the prisoner Edwards. This fact was, however, denied by Mrs. Canning; but after some questions had been put to her she fainted in the office, and her sister then admitted that the declaration of the clergyman was true. A reason for her denial of the fact was suggested in the circumstance, that her interest in the property left by her deceased husband terminated with her widowhood.
On the following Tuesday, the 19th of May, the prisoners, except Mrs. Lecasser, who was discharged, were fully committed to take their trial at the next Old Bailey Sessions. Their committal was made out under the provisions of statute 7 & 8 Geo. IV. c. 29, c. 6, which enacts, "That if any person rob another person of any chattel, money, or valuable security, every such offender being convicted thereof, shall suffer death as a felon. And if any person shall steal any such property from the person of another, or shall assault any other person with intent to rob him, or shall with menaces or by force, demand any such property of any other person, with intent to steal the same, every such offender shall be guilty of felony; and being convicted thereof, shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be transported beyond the seas for life, or for any term not less than seven years; or to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding four years; and, if male, to be once or twice publicly whipped (if the court shall think fit) in addition to such punishment."
At the Old Bailey Sessions on Monday the 12th of July, Edwards, Weedon, and Lecasser, were put upon their trial. Mr. Lee having stated the case for the prosecution, it was argued by Mr. Phillips, on behalf of the prisoners, that the indictment which charged them with felony could not be sustained. The allegation was, that the prisoners intended to take the security for 800l. "from the person" of Mr. Gee, which was inconsistent with the fact. The case was on this objection stopped by Mr. Justice Patteson, who declared that the prosecution could not be sustained, and a verdict of acquittal was, in consequence, returned.
The prisoners were then indicted for demanding from Mr. Gee, with threats and menaces, a legal security for 12001.; and also, an order for the payment of 100l., with a view to steal the same. Mr. Adolphus having opened the case, the Court declared that this indictment was also open to objection. The prisoners were alleged to have demanded the security "with a view to" obtain it. They had actually obtained it, as it appeared, and they must be acquitted. Mr. Gee, besides, never had possession of the papers giving up the security, and as there could be no robbery where there was no possession, the indictment could not be sustained.
The prisoners were then declared "Not Guilty; "but a bill of indictment having been already found against them at the Middlesex Sessions, together with Mrs. Canning, for an assault, they were all held to bail to answer that charge.
On Friday, the 1st of August, the whole of the parties were put upon their trial at the Middlesex Sessions. The case occupied the Court until ten o'clock at night, when it terminated in a verdict of acquittal as regarded Mrs. Canning, and of guilty of the offence of conspiracy against Edwards and Weedon, and of guilty of an assault against Lecasser.
Edwards was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Newgate; Weedon to twelve months' imprisonment in the House of Correction; and Lecasser to six months' imprisonment in the same jail.