These unhappy men underwent the infliction of the penalty of death for the murder of an aged pensioner of the 49th regiment of foot, named William Bennett, on Wednesday evening, the 28th of October 1837.
It appears that Bennett, the murdered man, had lived at Temen-green, a place about four miles distant from Hertford, for a great number of years, and he had a pension of one shilling and tenpence halfpenny per day, which he was in the habit of going to Hertford to receive quarterly. He went to Hertford for that purpose on the day of the murder, and called upon Mr. Duncan, the superintendant of the Hertford police, who accompanied him to receive his pension, which amounted to nearly ten pounds; and Mr. Duncan observed that at this time he had more money about him. He left Hertford about four o'clock in the afternoon, perfectly sober and collected. Nothing more was seen of him until about half-past four o'clock, when a boy named Bolton met him about a quarter of a mile from his own house, and he also observed four men in the wood by the road side, who were evidently watching the unfortunate man. The boy said to the deceased, "Who are those men?" The deceased replied, that he knew who they were very well, and he did not mind them. The boy went on his way, and the deceased was never more seen alive. A labouring man going to his work about half-past five o'clock on the next morning, saw the body of a man lying by the roadside at Temen, and on going close to it he discovered it was that of the deceased. He immediately gave an alarm, and assistance being procured, the body was taken to the Feathers public-house, Temen-green, where Mr. Davies, a surgeon, was sent for. It was then discovered that the head of the deceased had been literally crushed by repeated blows of a bludgeon and kicks. It was found that the bulk of the deceased's money had been taken, as well as his watch and pocket-book, but in his waistcoat pockets were still a half-sovereign and a small quantity of silver, and some half-pence. The moment the knowledge of these facts came to the magistrates of Hertford, they took the most prompt measures to apprehend the parties who had perpetrated the horrible crime, and Mr. Duncan, the superintendant of police, received directions to institute the minutest inquiries upon the subject with that view. Accordingly Mr. Duncan, accompanied by Knight and Baker, two of his men, proceeded to the neighbourhood of Temen-green, and they there obtained information which led to the apprehension of two men, Fletcher and Sams, the former at Burling-green, near the place where the murder was committed, and the latter at a beer-shop in Hertford.
Subsequent inquiries led to the belief that two young men, named Taylor and Roach, were also engaged in the perpetration of the murder; and, in the course of a few days, the latter was apprehended. For some time after they were taken into custody, the prisoners persisted in denying their knowledge of the deceased or of his murder; but after about a fortnight's imprisonment, they sent for Mr. Carter, a magistrate, to whom each of them in succession made a statement. The story which they all related implicated them in an intention to rob the deceased, but they denied that they had attacked him with the object of committing murder. Sams, however, they stated, was no party to the actual attack, although he had consented to accompany them, for that he became alarmed before they came up with the deceased, lest he should recognise him, and turned back. The others then advanced, and, getting close behind the old man, tripped him up and fell upon him. He struggled violently on the ground, and exclaimed that he knew them, but they robbed him of his money and then beat him violently. After this they went away and divided the booty; and on the next day heard that the old man was dead. Roach now absconded to London, but was taken into custody in the crowd assembled to witness the procession of her majesty into the City on Lord-mayor's day, by a police-constable, who recognised him from the description of his person which had been circulated. They all stated that Taylor, who was now nowhere to be found, had been the most active in the murder and robbery; but that he, as well as they, had had no original intention to commit any violence upon the deceased.
On Friday, the 2nd of March 1838, the three prisoners were put upon their trial before Mr. Justice Vaughan, at the Hertford Assizes, and the jury, after a patient inquiry, found Roach and Fletcher "Guilty," but acquitted Sams.
Sentence of death was immediately passed on the convicts, and on Wednesday, the 14th of March, their execution took place. Both the culprits were mere lads, and the most strenuous exertions had been made to save them, but without effect. They conducted themselves with much propriety while they were in prison, but maintained a firm consistency in their assertion that murder had formed no part of their object when they first attacked the old man. They met death with much fortitude and resignation.
In the following month of September, Taylor was recognised at Plymouth, whither he had gone with the 15th regiment of foot, into which he had enlisted almost immediately after the murder, in the name of Evans. Pie was sent back to Hertford, and, at the ensuing Spring Assizes was tried, convicted, and executed.