Villains, lurking in secret, ready to fall upon men, in order to rob them, often commit murder. The horrid impulse generally arises from the fear of opposition, of the dread of an appearance against them, when arraigned at the bar of justice. But when we find that a man, cowardly and brutally embrues his hands in the blood of an unoffending, defenceless woman, our nature is appalled, and we vent our most bitter execrations on the monster who commits so foul a deed.
At the assizes at Maidstone, in Kent, not yet a year after the fatal calendar of Newgate, at the sessions when the Recorder of London gave his learned and humane advice to the condemned malefactors, one hundred and fourteen prisoners were tried for felonious practices, and fifteen sentenced to death—a greater number, we are told, than ever before appeared at that bar of justice. The most infamous of those was Martin Laas, a subject of the king of Denmark, born at Bergen, in Norway. He was a sea-faring man, and, when a boy, came to England in a Danish trading ship. Deserting the service of his employer, he entered on board the British fleet, and had served as an able seamen several years, two of which we find, was on board the Fame, of 74 guns, one of the fleet under the command of the gallant Rodney, in the West-Indies.
In this culprit we have another deplorable instance of dismissing seamen, often penniless, at the end of that war, in which they often have conquered. When foreigners enlist under our banners, and having served our purpose, ought not government, at least, to send them back to their own homes? But such traits of common justice are forgot, amid the more mighty concerns of our ministers. Where, then, in such cases, is Humanity to beg her boon?
Such was the case of Martin Laas; he was a distressed foreigner, who had fought our battles, and his services no longer wanted, misfortune overtook him, but hunger, which the proverb truly says, "will break through stone walls," needs not to impel cruelty. It appeared in evidence, and from his own confession, that the prisoner was sitting on the side of the public road, when a beautiful young country woman passed him near the Halfway-house, near Sandwich, of the name of Mary Bax. At the instant, the devil, he said, whispered him to kill and rob her. He therefore followed her, and had proceeded near half a mile, when he asked her the road to Sheerness. The unsuspicious maid courteously answered, that it was a great way to Sheerness. He then said, he had no money, and must have some to bear his expenses; to which the deceased answered, that she had none. He then walked by her side, and on passing a ditch, pushed her into it, and jumped upon her, into mud and water up to his middle, and thus smothered her. He then took a bundle which she carried in her hands, and her shoes from her feet, with which he made off through the marshes, across the country towards Dover. Some of the articles which he had taken from the unhappy woman, were found upon him. During his trial, he behaved with unparalleled audacity, insulting the witnesses, and mocking the court.
When the jury found him guilty, he gave three cheers, and became so riotous that the judge ordered him to be seized and chained to the floor, until the time arrived for his execution. He showed no remorse when he confessed his barbarous crime. He was executed with John Huntley, for murdering his wife on Wistwell Downs, whose body was dissected; but that of Laas was burned under the gallows, as the surgeons would not accept of it. Eight more, committed for capital offences, died in prison; and William Hill Fairchild, for horse-stealing, murdered himself.