Executed at Tyburn, 18th of June, 1701, for the Murder of Peter Wolter, his Fellow-Apprentice
HERMAN STRODTMAN was a German, being born of a respectable family at Revel, in Lisland, who gave him a good education and brought him up strictly in the tenets of the Protestant religion. About the year 1694 young Strodtman, with a friend and school-fellow, named Peter Wolter, were, by their respective parents, sent in company to London, where they were both bound apprentices to the then eminent Dutch house of Stein & Dorien. They served their masters some time with diligence, and lived together in great harmony until a sister of Wolter married very advantageously, which so buoyed up the brother with pride that he assumed a superiority over his fellow-apprentice, and this led to the fatal catastrophe. This arrogance produced quarrelling, and from words they proceeded to blows, and Wolter beat Strodtman twice, at one time in the counting-house, and at another before the servant-girls in the kitchen. Wolter likewise traduced Strodtman to his masters, who thereupon denied him the liberty and other gratifications that were allowed to his fellow-apprentice. Hereupon Strodtman conceived an implacable hatred against him, and resolved to murder him, in some way or other. His first intention was to have poisoned him, and with this view he mixed some white mercury with a white powder which Wolter used to keep in a glass in his bedroom as a remedy for the scurvy; but this happening to be done in the midst of winter, Wolter had declined taking the powder; so that the other thought of destroying him by the more expeditious method of stabbing.
This scheme, however, he delayed from time to time, while Wolter's pride and arrogance increased to such a degree that the other thought he should at length be tempted to murder him in sight of the family. Hereupon Strodtman desired one of the maids to intimate to his masters his inclination to be sent to the West Indies; but no answer being given to this request, Strodtman grew again uneasy, and his enmity to his fellow-apprentice increased to such a degree that the Dutch maid, observing the agitation of his mind, advised him to a patient submission of his situation, as the most probable method of securing his future peace. Unfortunately he paid no regard to this good advice; but determined on the execution of the fatal plan which afterwards led to his destruction.
On the morning of Good Friday, Strodtman was sent out on business, but instead of transacting it he went to Greenwich, with an intention of returning on Saturday to perpetrate the murder; but reflecting that his fellow-apprentice was to receive the Sacrament on Easter Sunday, he abhorred the thought of taking away his life before he had partaken of the Lord's Supper. Wherefore he sent a letter to his masters on the Saturday, in which he asserted that he had been impressed, and was to be sent to Chatham on Easter Monday and put on board a ship in the Royal Navy; but while he was at Greenwich he was met by a young gentleman who knew him, and who, returning to London, told Messrs Stein & Dorien he believed that the story of his being impressed was all invention. Hereupon Mr Stein went to Chatham to inquire into the real state of the case, when he discovered that the young gentleman's suspicions were but too well founded.
Strodtman went to the church at Greenwich twice on Easter Sunday, and on the approach of evening came to London and slept at the Dolphin Inn, in Bishopsgate Street. On the following day he returned to Greenwich, and continued either at that place or at Woolwich and the neighbourhood till Tuesday, when he went to London, lodged in Lombard Street, and returned to Greenwich on the Wednesday. Coming again to London on the evening of the succeeding day, he did not return any more to Greenwich; but going to the house of his masters, he told them that what he had written was true, for that he had been pressed. They gave no credit to this tale, but told him they had inquired into the affair, and bid him quit their house. This he did, and took lodgings in Moorfields, where he lay on that and the following night, and on the Saturday he took other lodgings at the Sun, in Queen Street, London.
Before the preceding Christmas he had procured a key on the model of that belonging to his masters' house, that he might go in and out at his pleasure. Originally he intended to have made no worse use of this key; but, it being still in his possession, he let himself into the house between eight and nine o'clock on the evening of the Saturday last mentioned, and hearing the footsteps of some persons going upstairs he concealed himself behind a door in the passage. As soon as the noise arising from this circumstance was over, he went up one pair of stairs to a room adjoining the counting-house, where he used to sleep, and, having found a tinder-box, he lighted a candle and put it into his masters' dark lantern, which he carried upstairs to an empty room, next to that in which Peter Wolter used to lie. Here he continued a short time, when, hearing somebody coming upstairs, he put out his candle, and fell asleep soon afterwards. Awaking about twelve o'clock he listened for a while, and hearing no noise he imagined that the whole family were fast asleep. Hereupon he descended to the room on the first floor where the tinder-box lay; and having lighted his candle he went to the counting-house, and took a sum of money and several notes and bills. This being done, he took a piece of wood, with which they used to beat tobacco, and going upstairs again he hastily entered the room where Peter Wolter was asleep, and advancing to his bedside struck him violently on the head; and though his heart in some degree failed him, yet he continued his strokes. As the wounded youth groaned much, he took the pillow and, laying it on his mouth, sat down on the side of the bed and pressed it hard with his elbow, till no appearance of life remained. Perceiving Wolter to be dead, he searched his chest of drawers and pockets, and took as much money as, with what he had taken from his masters, amounted to above eight pounds. He then packed up some linen and woollen clothes, and going down one pair of stairs threw his bundle into a house that was uninhabited.
He then went upstairs again, and having cut his candle, lighted both pieces, one of which he placed on a chair close to the bed-curtains, and the other on a chest of drawers, with a view to setting the house on fire, to conceal the robbery and murder of which he had been guilty. This being done, he went through a window into the house where he had thrown his bundle, and in this place he stayed till five in the morning, when he took the bundle with him to his lodgings in Queen Street, where he shifted his apparel, and went to the Swedish church in Trinity Lane. After the worship of the congregation was ended he heard a bill of thanks read, which his masters had sent in devout acknowledgment of the narrow escape that they and their neighbours had experienced from the fire. Struck by this circumstance, Strodtman burst into tears; but he endeavoured as much as possible to conceal his emotion from a gentleman who sat in the same pew with him, and who, on their coming out of the church, informed him that the house of Messrs Stein & Dorien narrowly escaped being burned the preceding night, by an accident then unknown, but that the destruction was providentially prevented by the Dutch maid smelling the fire and seeing the smoke, so that on her alarming her master the flames were extinguished by a pail of water.
Strodtman made an appointment to meet the gentleman who gave him this information on the outer walks of the Royal Exchange in the afternoon, to go to the Dutch church in the Savoy; but, the gentleman not coming to his time, he went alone to Stepney church, and after service was ended he walked towards Mile End, where he saw the bodies of Michael Van Berghen and Dromelius, who had been hung in chains, as before mentioned. This sight gave him a shocking idea of the crime of which he had been guilty, and he reflected that he might soon become a like horrid spectacle to mankind. Hence he proceeded to Blackwall, where he saw the captain of a French pirate hanging in chains, which gave fresh force to the gloomy feelings of his mind, and again taught him to dread a similar fate. After having been thus providentially led to the sight of objects which he would otherwise rather have avoided, he returned to his lodgings in great dejection of mind, but far from repenting, or even being properly sensible of the crime he had committed; for, as he himself said, his heart did not yet relent for what he had done, and if he had failed in murdering his fellow-apprentice in his bed, he would have destroyed him some other way.
On his return to his lodgings he ate his supper, said his prayers, and went to bed. On the following morning he went to the White Horse Inn without Cripplegate to receive cash for a bill of twenty pounds, which he had stolen from his masters' house; but the person who was to have paid it being out he was desired to call again about twelve o'clock. In the interim he went to the house of a banker in Lombard Street, who requested him to carry some money to his (the banker's) sister, who was at a boarding-school at Greenwich. Strodtman said he could not go till the following day, when he would execute the commission; but before he left the house the banker told him that a young man, named Green, had been to inquire for him; on which Strodtman said that if Mr Green returned he should be informed that he would be back at one o'clock. Hence he went again to the White Horse inn, where he found the party, who told him that he had no orders to pay the money for the bill.
Having received this answer he went to his lodgings, where he dined, and then went to the banker's in Lombard Street, where his master, Stein, with Mr Green and another gentleman, were waiting for him. Mr Stein asked him if he would go willingly to his house, or be carried by porters; and he replied that he would go of his own accord. When he came there he was asked some questions respecting the atrocious crimes of which he had been guilty; but persisting that he was innocent he was searched, and the twenty-pound bill found in his possession. They then inquired where he lodged; to which he answered: "In Moorfields"; whereupon they all went thither together, but the people denied his lodging there at that time. Mr Stein, finding him unwilling to speak the truth, told him that if he would make a full discovery he should be sent abroad out of the reach of justice. Hereupon he mentioned his real lodgings; on which they went thither in a coach, and finding the bills, and other stolen effects, Strodtman was carried before Sir Humphrey Edwin, who committed him to Newgate, on his own confession.
He was not tried at the first sessions after his commitment, and in the interval that he lay in prison some bad people who were confined there trumped up an idle tale for him to tell when he came to trial, and prevailed on him to plead not guilty —- a circumstance which he afterwards sincerely repented of. On his trial, however, there were so many corroborative proofs of his guilt that the jury could not hesitate to convict him, and he received the sentence awarded by law.
He died full of contrition, penitence and hope, and suffered at Tyburn, on the 18th of June, 1701; and it was remarked that he kept his hand lifted up for a considerable time after the cart was drawn away.