On May 22, 1844 a man named John Swinscoe discovered the bodies of three children all with their throats cut. The parish constable William Parr was notified, after viewing the bodies he began a search for the murder weapon and found a fourth body, this was a woman, she was later identified as the mother of the three children.
This was a troublesome time in the region, times were hard financially and many working men felt they were being dealt with unfairly. This lead to a strike and the police were worried about possible mob action. In the midst of this was a bloody and sensational murder. The husband was a suspect from the very beginning. He ended up being convicted and executed, but that is not the end of the story, there is more tragedy to follow.
It’s possible that William Saville did not murder his children and wife although all the facts seem to point to that. It was impossible to properly investigate the crime scene as it was overrun by ‘spectators’. Some people just wanted to stand on the scene of a murder, some believed the relics from a murder could serve as a talisman against evil. Many people held fast to old superstitions. One such superstition was that hangman’s rope could cure skin blemishes. For this reason a hangman would sell inch long pieces of the rope.
For obvious reasons Mr. Sheridan could not interview anyone directly connected with this account. Also many of the original documents had ‘disappeared’. He made extensive use of the newspapers and there is much in here directly quoted from them. He has also used ‘editorial license’ to recreate some events, although he has not created any characters. Everyone mentioned was alive at one point.
This is definitely not one of those true crime books that reads like a novel. It is also not just a dry recitation of facts. Mr. Sheridan has done his best, through research into the time period to flesh out the events and breathe some life into the story. He states in the introduction: “My aim has been to take the reader right back to 1844, to immerse them in the controversy, the judgements and the terrible events that occurred as if they were there.” By directly quoting from the newspapers, relating surrounding events, I feel he has done just that.
For more information about Mike Sheridan and the writing of this book check out his blog, click here.