They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
He lived in Lyons Inn.
William Weare was a solicitor, gambler and murder victim. His name is rarely mentioned but the Radlett Murder or the Elstree Murder, as it is also called, is notorious. Accused of his murder were Joseph Hunt, professional singer and former keeper of the Army and Navy Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane, Mr Probert a former wine dealer who owned a cottage near Elstree and John Thurtell, a successful prize fighter who was the son of Alderman Thurtell of Norwich,
All four men were well known in the murky world of gambling in early 19th century London. Weare was a careful, successful gambler who was known to carry at least £1000 about his person. He had won £300 from John Thurtell playing blind hookery, a card game.
In October 1823 suspicions were aroused of a dreadful crime in the area of Gill’s Hill Lane in Elstree. Shots had been heard on the Friday night and next morning, workmen found a bloody knife and a pistol in the undergrowth. Local authorities investigated suspicious behaviour by men staying at Mr Probert’s cottage, who had been seen searching the Lane, saying that their gig had thrown them the night before.
It transpired that John Thurtell had invited Weare down to Probert’s cottage for a weekend’s shooting. Probert and Hunt had travelled separately from Thurtell and Weare and they spent 45 minutes drinking five brandies at the Artichoke in Elstree. Meanwhile, in a separate chaise along the road, Thurtell shot at Weare giving him a glancing wound on the cheek. Running for his life, Weare promised to return Thurtell’s money, but his throat was cut and his skull caved in by the butt of a pistol.
It would appear that only one man was guilty but the other two men were probably involved in the plot to attack Weare and they certainly helped to cover up the murder. Arriving at Probert’s cottage at 9 pm, the men dined with Probert’s young wife. After she retired to bed the men stayed up all night drinking and smoking but the servant, Susan Ann Woodrough said that they went out from 10 to 11 pm with a candle and a lantern. This must have been when they collected the body from the lane, over the back of a horse and then concealed it in the fish pond by the cottage.
Next day Hunt and Thurtell returned to London, promising to be back at the cottage on Sunday. In town, Hunt bought cord and a new sack and on their arrival in Elstree, John Thurtell used the chaise to transport the body to Hill-slough pond, two miles from the cottage. He used the cord and sacking to wrap up the body weighted down with stones.
Soon after his arrest, Joseph Hunt confessed to his knowledge of the murder and showed the Magistrate where the body could be found. Probert also confessed to some involvement, telling how Thurtell shared out £24 from the dead man and put a gold watch chain round Mrs Probert’s neck. The cottage had been full of a family party that Sunday so at first Mrs Probert, her sister Mrs Noyes and John Thurtell’s brother Thomas were also arrested.
Newspapers throughout the country were full of gruesome details about the brains attached to the pistol and John’s bloody clothing. A partially dug 6 foot grave was found close to the cottage and testimony of Hunt’s purchase of 2 pistols and a new spade helped to incriminate him. The Caledonian Mercury talked of the diabolical ferocity of the murder and the coldblooded villainy of the plan.
John Thurtell was condemned to death and hanged on January 9th 1824. A waxwork of his body was exhibited at Madam Tussaud’s for 150 years, although his actual body had been dissected. Joseph Hunt was also sentenced to death but this was commuted to Transportation. After serving his term in Botany Bay, Joseph became a respectable police officer with a wife and two children. Probert was released, a ruined man and his many crimes caught up with him, when in 1825 he was arrested for stealing a horse and was hanged at Newgate.
During the trial in 1823, Probert’s cottage became a popular place to visit. The tenant charged one shilling per head and made over £200. These visitors included the Marchioness of Salisbury and, a few years later, Sir Walter Scott. The furniture was sold and the house torn down.
Although his hands were warm with blood,
He down to supper sat,
And passed the time in merry mood,
With drink and songs and chat.