Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Break

I'm going to be pretty busy for July and August this year, so I'm taking a break from the Story Seedlings blog until September.

Have a safe and happy summer!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just minding his own business when...

Today's case at the Old Bailey Online involves theft, specifically two women accused of pickpocketing. The prosecutor (in those days, the victim, John White) contends that he was just walking along at 11 o'clock at night, minding his own business, when two women accosted him and "asked him to go to their lodgings." He refused, but "they carried him down into an Alley" and as they stood talking, one woman, Hannah Ramsey, picked his pocket, stealing six guineas, or just over six pounds.

When he realized the money was gone, "he charg'd her with taking it, and got them secur'd, and sent them to the Compter, but the Constable did not search them. The Watchman depos'd, That Ramsey denied that she had any Money, but half a Crown, which the Prosecutor gave her to lie with them."

And that's all we get before the verdict - the victim's accusation and explanation, and Hannah's defense. There is no evidence but the victim's story, and no defence except the accused's denial and explanation.

Okay, what's wrong with this picture?

What's John White doing out for a stroll at 11 p.m.?
How puny is John White that two women can "carry him" (if not literally, this at least implies they forced him) down an alley?
What were they talking about as his pocket was picked? (He doesn't say he was arguing with them. It sounds as if they were having a chat.)
Why was no search done?
How much time had elapsed between the time John and the women were "talking" and he realized his money was gone and he apprehended them? If Hannah had six guineas and the arrest was almost immediate, that would prove John's story. If she didn't...

If these questions were asked and answered, it's not in the record of the case.

What is in the record is that Hannah was found guilty and sentenced to death. Her "partner in crime," Sarah Mackdonald (interesting spelling) is found guilty "only" of a felony, in that she wasn't the one who actually took the money. Her sentence? Transportation. (I note that there's a link to "respited for pregnancy" with the punishment, but I couldn't find anything specifically about this case.)

Frankly, without knowing what John White was doing walking around at 11 at night, I find it a lot easier to buy Hannah's explanation for his presence in the street.

Unfortunately, I can also believe that Hannah and Sarah saw an opportunity to help themselves to more money as one kept White preoccupied.

But guilty or not, how harsh is it to be sentenced to death for stealing a little more than six pounds? Or being sent off to the wilds of America for seven years of what was little better than slavery?

What story seedlings do I find here?
The key point that intrigues me is that lack of a search. It seems such an obvious thing to be done, why wasn't it?

Did the Constable just decide they were obviously guilty? Did he simply accept White's accusation - and if so, why? Were these women known to him? Or was he too lazy to do his job?

Or was there another reason he didn't want to search? Did he think they were diseased or too filthy?

The more I think about the Constable, the more potential I see for a secondary character and complications for an otherwise straightforward mystery element in a novel.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hannah Herring tells a tale

Today's case at the Old Bailey is about a simple theft, of an apron, in 1745. What got my attention first was the name of the supposed victim of the crime - Hannah Herring. Really. You can't make this stuff up - or if you do, I can just see some snarky reviewer complaining.

Anyway, it seems Hannah and her aunt, who was pregnant, were just ambling down the street when Thomas Carter approached them. According to Hannah, he "gave her (the pregnant aunt) some ill language, and then he tore my apron off my sides, and d - d me, and carried the apron away with him; then I cried out murder and thieves, and some people came to my assistance."

She claims that after Thomas was apprehended, "He fell down on his knees, and asked pardon."

According to the aunt, Thomas approached them and "called me an imposturous B - h - I suppose it was, because I told him I was with child, and desired he would not meddle with me; then he laid hold of Hannah Herring , and she cried out, and the three men took him, and brought him back."

"Imposturous" means deceitful. I had to look it up and once again, I was impressed by the language people used in everyday speech back in the day.

Thomas's defence? "When I came up to her, I said, are not you a preposterous creature? and I went to kiss them, but I did not take the apron."

The constable produces the apron, but he doesn't say where it was found, a rather amazing lack of information, considering the charge and the evidence.

Three character witnesses are brought forward to testify to Thomas's honest reputation and we discover Thomas is a "dealer in hair" and sells it to a wigmaker.

Thomas was acquitted.

A few points this writer ponders about this case and testimony:

Whatever actually happened, the women clearly had a beef with Thomas Carter. What exactly was their relationship before the apparent apron-snatching? Specifically, I'd like to know about Thomas's relationship with the pregnant aunt.

I note the similarity of "imposturous" and "preposterous." Preposterous means absurd, so that's not exactly flattering, either. I don't think Thomas thought much of the aunt.

Hannah herself says she shouted "murder" after the alleged assault. That's a bit over the top, isn't it? She also claims he went down on his knees and begged pardon, although nobody else mentions this. Hannah sounds like a bit of a drama queen to me, and I think I'd be a loathe to convict a man (especially considering the severe penalties at this time) on her testimony. Although the constable produces the apron in question, Hannah has decided to press charges. Why? What does she hope to gain, except to see Thomas punished?

Thomas says he was going to kiss them. Why? As a simple greeting, or was there something else going on, especially if he was angry? Was he trying to kiss them against their will? Even based on his own testimony, he apparently said something like, "You're an absurd creature. Now give us a kiss." I wouldn't be impressed either, if I were Hannah and her aunt.

Where does a "dealer in hair" get the hair?

Although I have a lot of questions about the relationship between the accused and the accusors, I tend to side with the jury, in part because Hannah seemed to be a melodramatic witness and it's very much in doubt as to whether or not he absconded with the apron.

That said, I'd love to know what this was really all about, because I don't think it was about an apron.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reckless Driving and Character Guilt

If you ever wanted to give your character a heavy backstory, today's case at the Old Bailey offers a situation with major guilt potential. And possibly revenge, too.

William Liecester was charged with murder in the death of a boy, John Corbet, who fell under the wheels of his cart: "the Deceas'd was running a Truck to and from in the Highway, and the Truck threw him suddenly under the Wheel of the Prisoner's Cart."

I was confused about what exactly was going on until I looked up the word "truck" and found this part of the definition: "a small barrow consisting of a rectangular frame having at one end a pair of handles and at the other end a pair of small heavy wheels and a projecting edge to slide under a load —called also hand truck."

If the boy who died had been pushing such a thing, holding onto the handles, and it veered into the path of the cart, that could have caused him to get hit.

The accused said he never saw the boy until after the accident, and "it was thought by the Evidence that he could not help it if he had seen it, it was so sudden, thereupon the Jury acquitted him."

The record doesn't indicate how old John Corbet was, but he's referred to as "the boy", so we can assume he's probably less than 16.

How does William feel about what happened? All we have is "The Prisoner pleaded he did not see the Boy before the Accident was over." "Pleaded" doesn't necessarily mean he was upset; it may simply mean that was his testimony in court.

There isn't any specific testimony from other witnesses, although presumably there was, as there is "evidence," which at this time, would mean eye witness testimony.

However, if you want a guilt-ridden character, it doesn't get much worse than accidentally killing a child, and in a manner that would be very painful.

One other thing strikes me about this case - why was Leicester indicted for murder, and not manslaughter? That option certainly existed for cases where the death wasn't intentional. And who charged him? At this point (1717), a person would have brought the charges, not the Crown. So who accused Leicester of the more serious crime of murder and why murder?

This is where the novelist's imagination can really go to town.

What if it really was an accident, but Leicester is notorious for driving his cart too fast and too recklessly and for overburdening it so it couldn't stop quickly? He's been warned, but ignored everybody until the accident.

What if he had a beef against the boy or the boy's family, so people can believe he deliberately ran the boy down?

What he has an enemy who sees a way to use this terrible accident to get rid of Leicester?

What if Leicester has a drinking problem and doesn't know himself if he could have stopped the cart in time if he'd been sober?

What if Leicester really is guilty? What if really did run the boy down - but the jury believes his bogus remorse? What other avenue for justice does Corbet's family have? What might one of Corbet's loved ones do to get revenge?

If you're into paranormals, what if Corbet's ghost can't rest easy because of the way he died or because Leicester got off? Or what if that particular stretch of road is cursed?

What if it's not William Leicester who kills the boy, but Willemina? What if she was driving - maybe being determined to prove she can, or to escape from another situation - and she accidentally hits the boy? What if, instead of charging her with a crime, society shuns her?

What if a man was considered guilty, condemned by local gossip, but never charged or convicted, so the truth never really becomes known? How would that affect his life if he was innocent? If he was guilty?

Yep, lots of good backstory potential here, whether you decide to make Leicester innocent, guilty of manslaughter or guilty of murder as charged.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And he took my hat, too!

Today's case concerns a man, one Matthias Fream or Frame, who's charged with perverting justice for helping his wife escape custody and also with grand larceny for stealing the constable's hat.

Mrs. Fream was charged with shoplifting, along with another woman. They were being taken from location to another in the custody of the constable when "the Prisoner and eight or nine more attacked us, broke the Coach-Doors to pieces, and rescued the Woman."

(I find the use of the word "rescued" interesting, since these are court documents.)

Not only did they free the women from custody, Fream took the constable's hat that had been knocked off his head.

Because the accused didn't have legal counsel until the Prisoner's Counsel Act of 1836, Fream himself cross-examines the constable and asks only one question:

"How can you be sure that I took it when several others were there?"

According to the constable, Fream was "the last Man of the Mob: The rest were gone a little before when he took my Hat up" and he knew Fream because he'd visited his wife while she was in custody.

Fream was found guilty and sentenced to transportation.

His wife, however, was acquitted.

What this case offers, I think, is a good set-up for a reunion romance - the husband attempts to save his unjustly accused wife and he winds up transported for a number of years. Then he comes home and finds...what?

Does she still love him? What's happened to her in the meantime? Does she understand why he did what he did? Does she think he was a fool to interfere? Has he changed so much she won't recognize him, or have anything more to do with him?

What if she's got an interfering, overbearing family who didn't want her to marry him in the first place? What if the other woman charged was a friend who's always had a thing for her husband? They were transported together - what's the wife to think?

Has the husband changed? What does she think of his ill-fated attempt at rescue?

Will they be able to get back together? Will it work? How do the events of the intervening years influence their relationship?

Yep, this could make for a very interesting story.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Duel Nobody Won

In today's Old Bailey Online case, a duelist is charged with murder.

Robert Trimble, a gentleman, was accused of killing Moses Pierce, a carpenter who fancied himself skilled with a sword. Seems ol' Mose always wore a sword and liked to brag of his skill, so much so that his "Behaviour founded upon that Conceit" became "unsupportable."

Trimble and Pierce got into an argument about how to hold a sword, and subsequently dueled, with the result that Pierce lost, dying in what sounds like the "only a flesh wound!" scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail: "the fatal Wound was given; but they found the Deceas'd holding the Prisoner's Sword very thirsty and desirous of a Dram of Brandy; crying out, he would fight the Prisoner again, he would have his Blood, and presently after fell down dead."

The jury found Trimble guilty of manslaughter. His punishment? To be "burnt in the hand" -- branded.

I can see using this in a romance, by having the hero convicted of manslaughter and being branded in the hand. Scars are interesting, a very visible sign of something significant in the character's past.

Would I use the same excuse for a duel? Perhaps, especially if this happened when the hero was young and/or drunk.

And the heroine? Related to or friends of the dead man would make for plenty of conflict. Perhaps the hero discovers the heroine by accident and wants to make amends, and keep the secret of his scar.

Maybe he seeks her out to make amends -- or maybe he's bitter and feels he didn't deserve to be convicted, that he acted in self-defense.

Maybe he's ashamed and remorseful, and has hidden himself away. The heroine comes to make amends or perhaps find out exactly what happened, only to be rebuffed. I do like a Beauty and the Beast story!

What I'll mainly keep in the ol' memory bank from this case is the brand on the hand. It's interesting and unique, and provides all sorts of seedlings for future use.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Where's the beef?

I don't have time to do a true Story Seedlings blog post, but I just couldn't resist noting today's case. A guy was accused of stealing 34 pounds of beef that was hanging in a stall. He was apprehended in an alehouse called the Hole in the Wall. The prisoner's explanation? He bought it off some guys in Wapping.

The result -- "this not being prov'd, nor believ'd by the Jury, and the Butcher being positive it was his Beef" -- guilty. Sentence? Transportation.

Here's what I want to know. Granted, the prisoner's explanation is pretty vague, but how did the butcher really know it was his beef?

And how does a guy walk off with 34 pounds of raw meat?

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Female Fagin

Many people are familiar with the character of Fagin in Charles Dickens' OLIVER TWIST. Today's case from the Old Bailey proves such people really existed, and weren't always men.

Sarah Hewlet, apparently "a person of ill Fame, and a common Receiver of stolen Goods," is accused of receiving some food stolen by two boys, George Dawson and Thomas Curtis.

George tells the court she didn't just pay them for stolen goods. She "did entice and encourage Boys to go a thieving, lodg'd them in her House, and us'd to give them what she pleas'd for the Things they stole, and then made them spend the Money at her House."

On what were they spending their ill-gotten gains? "They spent the Money in Gin. and Hot-Pots."

How old were these boys? They give their ages as twelve, but look much younger (8 or 9).

Sarah is found guilty, given two years' imprisonment and fined. It doesn't say in this case what happened to the boys; however, a search revealed a "little boy" named George Dawson accused of theft in 1733. At the time, and despite the court description of him as a "little boy," he says he's 14. The George in the first case is supposedly twelve in 1731, so this could very well be the same George, who may, however, be older - church records show the 2nd George could be over seventeen. So, is this the same George and was he just really small for his age? In either case, the second George is found guilty and sentenced to death.

There's a (very brief) record of a Thomas Curtis being accused of house breaking and stealing two pieces of cloth in 1738. He's found guilty and sentenced to transportation, which at this time meant to America.

So here we have the female equivalent of Fagin and his band of pickpockets.

If I were to write a romance about this, Sarah Hewlet couldn't be the heroine. But a villain? Oh, yes. Especially if she gets away with this for years, and instead of living in a rundown building in a bad part of town, lives in a more upscale neighborhood. Let her appear a charitable, well-to-do widow.

The hero and heroine could both be kids she exploited in their youth. Or the heroine could be, and the hero a Bow Street Runner or some other sort of authority figure who's figured out the widow may not be what she appears. What if the heroine is related to Sarah (maybe even her daughter) and lives with her, but doesn't know where Sarah's money comes from?

As the truth about Sarah's income begins to come out through the efforts of the hero, will she upset with the hero for ruining her world? Or will she be horrified by what she learns about Sarah? No reason she couldn't have both reactions.

What about Sarah? Why does she have the gang? What other financial alternatives would a woman have to earn a living at that time? Maybe she felt she had no choice - and maybe she had the same upbringing. Maybe there hadn't been a way out for her. What if she both fears exposure, yet truly loves the heroine and wants her to live the life she couldn't have? That would make for an interesting, three-dimensional villain, because it isn't only heroes and heroines who can have internal conflict.

And what of the hero? If he's a very strong law-and-order type, what does he do when he realizes he's developing feelings for the daughter of a woman he thinks is a criminal ring-leader? How are those feelings affected when he realizes the heroine has no idea how Sarah gets/got her money? He'd be torn between duty and desire - always good for an internal conflict - plus the realization he's going to totally ruin an innocent woman's life.

This case was a fairly brief and simple one, yet even then, there can be some pretty interesting seedlings for a story.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Magic of Name-Dropping and the ol' switcheroo

Today's case from the records of the Old Bailey really caught my eye. First, because of the reference to Sir Isaac Newton and secondly because of the location. The prosecutor (that means the victim, who was the person who brought charges in those days) lived in Shoe Lane, which was very close to Cloth Fair, where we stayed in London. Map

We stayed in the flat that had belonged to Sir John Betjeman, which is one of several properties belonging to the Landmark Trust. You can see a picture in the Wikipedia entry - the flat is through that side door and above the wine bar named after him. It's also directly across from St. Bartholemew's, the setting for one of the weddings in Three Weddings and a Funeral and the hospital by that name. It was outside the church that William Wallace was executed.

The Landmark Trust takes places that are of historic interest and renovates them for holiday accommodation. As you can see by the map, the location of this flat in Cloth Fair is fabulous and the price was very reasonable - although it did feature the sort of wacky plumbing we often encountered in England. (Please, what is with the two separate taps, one for hot, one for cold? And we had a shower in one hotel that I swear was designed by a crazed engineer. We had to have somebody come up and show us how to work the thing, and even then, I gave up and suffered through freezing water.) We also stayed in a House of Correction in Lincolnshire that been built on the site of a Norman castle and still had the moat. It also had a lovely bathroom, a kitchen I used as inspiration for our own kitchen remodel and a picture of the guy who had once been the fattest man in Lincolnshire.

Now on to the case and how I could use it for story seedlings:

In 1738, Honour Penery was charged with stealing several items, mostly clothing, from Jane Ellard.

Jane claimed that, in the course of looking for work, she encountered Honour and another woman who claimed they could help her. When they showed up at her lodgings the next day, they also claimed to be apprentices of Sir Isaac Newton and before they could help her, "they must first calculate my Nativity." They then pulled out "a great Book with Heads and Hands in it", spouted all sorts of stuff that seemed to confuse her until they told her she had to bundle up all her things. Jane claims she was skeptical from the get-to - she told them, "that's quite silly, and if any body should hear this Business besides our selves, they would laugh at us."

Nevertheless, Honour and her cohort, who is supposedly her mistress, keep up the pressure, with the interesting argument that "suppose you were Sick, and a Physician comes and prescribes Physick for you, - if you won't take it, what Good can he do you? 'Tis all the same Thing, we can't pretend to do you any Good, unless you'il do as you are ordered."

Jane caves and does as they say. Honour and her partner then tell her the goods must be wrapped in brown paper very tightly, which she does. Then they tell her to kneel and say the Lord's prayer. "I refused at first, but by fair Means and foul they made me at last say the Lord's Prayer."

Next, Jane says, "Then they bid me turn about and open the Windows, which we had shut, for fear any body should see what we were about."

Honour's friend then tells her that "she must treat with me upon such a Spot of Ground, and bid me, - because it rain'd, - put on my Hat, least I should catch Cold. I went out with them as far as the Royal Bed, the Corner of Holborn, there they told me a young Man was to meet me, and would give me a Gold Ring, charging me not to look at my Bundle 'till Eight o'Clock at Night; at Eight o'Clock I found myself a great Sufferer by them, for all my Cloaths were gone, that I had worked for a great while."

It turns out the bundles had been switched, and Jane's now contained nothing by hay and straw. And the women had gotten clean away.

However, Jane did find a new place, in the above-mentioned Shoe Lane, and after about a fortnight, happened to see Honour pass by. She's completely gobsmacked, so much so she's too stunned to move. When Honour passes by again, Jane calls for a young man to go after her, Honour's caught and imprisoned.

Honour denies everything.

Another woman, Mary Lee, then testifies that Honour pulled the same switcheroo on her, taking "two large Silver Spoons, two small Spoons, two Gold Rings, and several other Things, exactly in the same Manner."

Honour denies that, too, saying, "I am a Mantua-maker, and never kept Company with any other Woman in my Life. I am as innocent as the Child that is born, - and welcome is the Grace of God."

Three women all named Elizabeth (Elizabeth Woods, Elizabeth Wheeler and Elizabeth Whiting) testify for Honour, saying they "never heard of the Prisoner's being a Conjurer, never heard Harm of her, nor ever saw any fine Book with Heads and Hands in it in her Custody."

The word of the three Lizzies doesn't do much for Honour. She's found guilty, fined 39 shillings and transported.

Here's what I find interesting in this case - and there's lots.

The woman's name, Honour Penery, because "penery" sounds a lot like "penury" which means "severe poverty." A con artist named Honour whose last name means poor. Sounds like something out of Dickens!

The notion that the con artists claim to work for Sir Isaac Newton. Now, Sir Isaac was already dead. Either the dupes didn't know this, or if they did, it means the women were claimed they had been his apprentices. Would a man like Sir Isaac have had women apprentices? In either case, Sir Isaac did apparently dabble in the occult, so claiming that they had learned magic from the man wouldn't have been completely out of the realm of believability.

I also note they produced a "great book," which suggests it was large and therefore, presumably, rather impressive. I don't know if Jane or Mary could read, but it was likely impressive nonetheless.

Jane seems to take great pains to note that she was skeptical from the start and was more or less bullied into taking part in the ritual. I also note that she was wary of being observed. Either she was afraid of looking foolish, or frightened for another reason. Witchcraft was only abolished as a crime in 1736, a mere two years before this, so I can believe people still believed in and were frightened of witches, and therefore ready to attack anybody they suspected of such activity.

Jane also relates that the two con artists were concerned about her catching cold - the better to make her think they were nice, I assume.

So, what seedlings to do I have here?

Well, the whole con, for one thing, and especially the fact that the women mention Sir Isaac Newton and the fact he got into the occult (which was news to me). That would make for some interesting historical elements that a lot of readers wouldn't know but might, like me, find interesting.

I note the promise that Jane would be met by a young man who would give her a gold ring. Not money, not the job she was apparently looking for when she first met the women, but a gold ring like, say, a wedding ring?

I don't think I could make a dupe the heroine. That makes her seem too dim. But she could certainly be tied to the heroine (say, a sister, cousin or servant). I like the notion that while the dupe claims she was seeking help finding a job, she may have had romance on her mind (the young man).

What if a young man happened along at the same time the dupe was waiting? What if he had a ring? Not that he's on his way to propose to somebody...wait - why not?

Better yet, what if the heroine takes the place of the dupe because she wants to catch everybody involved in the con and this comely young fellow happens along on his way to propose to another woman. The heroine assumes he's in on the fraud and...mayhem ensues.

If I had paranormal leanings, I could make what seems a con, not a con. The spell really works and this meeting is the result.

Or I could make this meet really sexy by having it take place not in the street, but in a bedroom. In the dark. And the hero assumes she's his bride-to-be.

Indeed, I like this last idea a LOT. I may very well use it. You heard it here first!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Not a story, but...

Sometimes you find things doing research that you hadn't really expected. Maybe it's not something you can use to start a story, but information you can use in another, or in some way.

Today's case is, alas, one of many I've come across on Old Bailey Online. A woman is charged with killing her bastard child. In this case, the woman nearly died and the body of the child was found in the toilet (or, I suppose, the cess pit beneath the seat).

Now, one could use this in a romance, but I probably wouldn't. It's too grim for me. Note I'm not saying I'd never use it. One thing I've learned over the years is never say never when it comes to writing. And there's no reason somebody else couldn't write an intensely emotional story based on this.

Still, there are a few points of interest for me here:

1. The woman had a common-law husband who was apparently a "wicked base Rogue of a Husband." Not just a rogue. A wicked base rogue. Yikes.

2. The woman was acquitted, and this doesn't seem to be unusual in such cases. The juries (all men) were clearly not without sympathy for a woman in a difficult situation.

3. The midwife's name was Elizabeth Taylor!

4. The different names for the outhouse. (I say outhouse, but I think the actual place might have been in the cellar or attached to the house, although it wasn't easy for the mother of the child to be heard.) It's called House of Office and, most often, the vault.

So while I don't think I'd make a story from this, there are some interesting points to ponder, and perhaps use in another story.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What the heck's a higler?

Do you know what a higler is? Neither did I. Apparently, it's basically a peddler.

In today's case at Old Bailey Online, Elizabeth Howard is charged with stealing from the higler Joseph Reeves.

Seems good ol' Joe was out trying to make a buck and met Lizzie standing in the doorway of a dram-shop (basically, a bar). They strike up a conversation, go inside and he buys her a drink. A lot of drink: a quartern of gin, which is a fourth of a pint or about 2 ounces, and then a pint of "hot." I tried googling this - you can imagine what I got and it wasn't drinks, so I'm going to assume it's hot rum punch. Joe doesn't mention if he had any drinks.

They then go into a room where, Joe says, "we stood pretty close together." Nice try, Joe, but I suspect they were doing more than standing.

Joe then realizes his pocket has been picked after she "whipp'd out of the House." I confess I was surprised by that verb. I'd have thought that a fairly modern usage.

Joe doesn't know anybody there but somehow or other (it's not explained) he meets the constable, identified here only by the wonderful name "Bunch", who gets him to swear out a warrant for the alleged thief. They go back to the dram-shop. The landlady of the dram-shop claims she doesn't know Lizzie.

Bunch then threatens to bring the landlady before the judge (on what charge? Accessory, I suppose.) and lo and behold, it turns out the landlady is Lizzie's sister.

They find Lizzie. Bunch demands to know "how she could be guilty of so vile a Thing." Lizzie replies that "she had but 9 s. of the Man's Money; and that was given her for Favours."

So it was a transaction of a certain nature, according to Lizzie, who also kept her money "stuck together with Yolks of Eggs in her Pocket."

What is up with that??? I suppose it would keep it from clinking or making any noise....

Then somebody named Davis testifies, and pretty incoherently, although it's quite possible that some of this was simply left out: "I have known the Prisoner these six Months, and better, and never have seen any Ill by her, but I have heard. - She has a very ill Character here, but I can give her none."

He's known Lizzie 6 months, doesn't know anything bad about her, but he's heard something. She's portrayed in a bad light in the court, and he can't give her a better character? Is that what he's trying to say?

Whatever it was, something about the evidence didn't add up for the jury, because Lizzie gets acquitted.

So what, of this, would I use in a book?

I love the name "Bunch." I think it's great for a secondary character.

You've got the two sisters, one running a bar, the other presumably working as a hooker and/or a thief. What if Lizzie's Sister had a different kind of business, something a bit more respectable, like say a dressmaking shop, and then her sister gets accused of theft and/or prostitution? What if Lizzie was innocent and she thought Joe loved her? What if she's guilty? Do you want the conflict inherent in a dysfunctional family? Then what if she's guilty and doesn't care if that causes problems for her sister?

What if Joe thought Lizzie loved him and then discovered she was only out to rob him? What if that money was all he had and he thought they were going to be married?

What if he was drunk? What if Lizzie purposefully tricked him to get his money? How would Joe feel if she was acquitted?

What if Lizzie and Joe really did just stand close together? What if she was trying to hold him up before he passed out and he was robbed by somebody else but thinks it was her? Or there wasn't any theft at all and he spent all his money or his brother's money or his father's money on booze and accuses her rather than reveal the truth? Could he be the hero if this is what happened?

The accusation could be at the start of the book, the inciting incident, or it could come later on, creating a pivotal moment in the relationship. I think with this story, I'd go with having this be at the start. It's got lots of potential for conflict and misunderstanding, family dysfunction, and even humor (Bunch and Davis' kinda wacky testimony). What really happens between Joe and Lizzie in the other room would depend on the sort of romance you were writing, from just standing there to...well, you can imagine. In fact, the tone and the actual activity of that encounter could pretty much decide just where in the romance spectrum your book would fall.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Not much of a defense....

Today's case at the Old Bailey doesn't just highlight the lack of defense counsel, which in Britain wasn't routinely provided or was even available until the Prisoners' Counsel Act passed in 1836, but also demonstrates how one seemingly simple, but somewhat mysterious reaction, can be a story seedling.

In 1754, Ann Palmer is accused of manslaughter in the death of her common-law husband, John Aubrey.

The watchman (who was the closest thing to a policeman at the time) testified that he heard a fight outside an alehouse. Aubrey hit Ann and she threatened to kill him if he did it again. He did and she stabbed him. He later bled to death.

Another man who knows the couple testifies that he saw the fight, too: "I saw him use her very ill; he struck her two or three times, and knocked her up against a window shutter by striking her on the side of the head, I be-believe, as hard as he could, as it seemed to me by her falling about. After that she said, If you strike me again I'll stab you. He made another blow at her, and immediately cried out, I am a dead man."

The woman who "keeps" the alehouse, Mary Manton, testifies and gives a clue as to the cause of the fight: "The deceased came and asked her to go home; she said she would not, and he then struck her on the side of her head. He asked her the same again, and she said she would not; he then struck her again. On this she said, G - d blast me, if you strike me again I'll slab you; then he immediately cried out, O Lord, O Lord, I am a dead man."

The surgeon who attended Aubrey then testifies about treating the dead man, who seemed to be recovering, then began to bleed again and died several days later.

And what is Ann's defense? "We had been at supper, and had no words till we came to this door, where he struck me and knocked me down. I know nothing at all of it, and had never a knife about me."

Now, I have to say, what the heck was she thinking? Three people testify that they saw Aubrey hit her more than once. She told him to stop or she'd kill him; he didn't and she did. I think a defense attorney might have been able to make a case for self-defense. So could Ann, except...she didn't.

Why not?

Because she wasn't his legal wife? Would that have a made a difference in the eyes of the jury?

Was she drunk at the time? If we believe Ms. Manton, she certainly could have been.

On the other hand, it sounds like her husband was really beating her. Was that his right? (I'd have to do more research to find out if I wanted to use this case as a story seedling.) Where did his right as a husband and hers as his wife end? Except she wasn't really his wife.

Verdict: Guilty. I couldn't find any record of her punishment.

If I were to use this as a story seedling, the first thing I'd want to address is why Ann didn't try to defend herself better. Why does she just claim ignorance, when it's pretty obvious there's considerable evidence as to what happened? Is she stupid? Frightened? Just resigned to her fate?

(Note: It could be that the three have it in for her, but I don't find that plausible. Also, what happened to the knife?)

Stupid wouldn't work for a heroine. Resigned doesn't really, either. Frightened would. Of what? Or whom? What would happen if she defended herself, both at the time and at the trial? What consequences does she fear? Why does she think letting herself be found guilty is the best thing to do?

In my mind, making a decision not to defend herself is what would make her a heroine. She acts by deciding not to act - but she'd also better have a valid, reasonable, understandable, sympathetic reason why.

Once I had my answer to that, I'd have a motive, and from there, I'd backtrack to create the reasons for the motive. In those reasons, I'd find an external conflict - something to do with the cause of the fight itself.

And that would probably be the route to finding the hero. He would have some relationship to the dead man - brother, perhaps. Or good friend.

If the murder happens at the start of the story, how do you get them together and keep them together? You might have to change the verdict to Not Guilty or some other verdict that would leave her free. Then together they set about finding the truth -- and at some point, if this is my story, the evidence has to give them a reason they could mistrust each other, or one to feel betrayed by the other. How they react to that evidence and that apparent betrayal reveals the true nature and depth of their relationship.

If the murder is a climatic event, it could be the ultimate test of their relationship - does he believe she's innocent or not? Does she give such a lame defense because she believes he thinks she's guilty, and if he thinks so, she has no hope anybody else will? But that's making herself a victim, isn't it? What if she decides she has to sacrifice not just her freedom, possibly her life, but even her love for the hero? What would compel her to do that? What would the hero think? How would he feel? What would he do?

So from this one woman's inadequate defense, it's possible to come up with the basics of a pretty intense romance.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tea, Taxes and Smuggling

The tea tax wasn't just a pain in the New World. Today's case at the Old Bailey is actually a two-parter, involving the same man apparently involved in evaded import taxes.

The first time Samuel Mitchell is charged, it's with stealing and hiding tea to avoid paying taxes. Or, as its described in the transcripts, "rescuing" the tea, which I find a very interesting choice of word.

It seems a bit of a twisted set of circumstances. Sam took the tea from the house of one James Langly, who hadn't paid the duty.

How did James Langly get the tea? Two "land-waters...having information of a large quantity of run tea, lodged in a barn in the parish of Harverton, on the 25th of February, 1766, went with Richard Viney , a waterman, and other assistance, and brought away the quantity mentioned in the indictment, and lodged it in the house of James Langly."

I can't find any explanation for "land-waters," but the transcripts aren't in the best of readable shape, so I'm wondering if the word is really "land-rakers." That means vagabond, especially one who steals (akin to "land-pirate" or "land-rat").

So two guys and Richard Viney took the tea from the barn to Langly's house, from which Sam supposedly "liberated" it.

"The evidence not amounting to the charge in the indictment," Sam's acquitted.

Then he's charged with being in a gang of smugglers who assaulted a couple of customs men.

The evidence against him comes from two other men, Thomas Gush (seriously, I cannot get over some of the names I'm finding in these transcripts!) and John Downs, who claim he was part of the gang. They also provide the interesting information that smugglers generally carry whips, although some had clubs.

It seems that their testimony isn't sufficient, or they must have seemed like shady characters, or maybe Sam had an innocent face, because Sam's acquitted again. I note he never spoke in his own defense, which seems a little unusual.

Here are what I'd be thinking about if this was a potential seedling:

Why doesn't Sam speak in his own defense?
Is it possible Sam wasn't involved and Gush and Downs had other reasons to testify against him? What if they're genuinely mistaken?
What if Sam was found guilty, but wasn't?
What if he is guilty? Why does he smuggle and how does he keep getting off? Or why does he keep getting caught?
What if Sam's the leader of a smuggling gang like the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (loved that Disney movie!)?
What if Sam's a woman?
What role does James Langly play in all this? He is like a fence? Is he good or evil?
What about the "land-rakers?" What more could they do in a story? What about the customs guys? Are they just civil servants trying to do their job? Or are they brutal in the enforcement of tax payments? Could that be why Sam's acquitted and doesn't speak in his own defense? Could the jury sympathize with him more than the tax men?
Were they really gangs of smugglers riding around assaulting tax men? What else did they smuggle? And what if the land-rakers and smuggling gangs were rivals, like in West Side Story?

And now I've got those songs stuck in my head...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Patsy and the Blind Beak

Today's case, a relatively simple one involving gambling, provides an interesting historical angle since one of the men mentioned is Sir John Fielding, the half brother of Henry Fielding. Sir John was blinded in a navy accident at 19, then went on to study law and become one of the men who formed the Bow Street Runners.


But on to the case, in which John Jones is charged with "fraudulently cozening and cheating" John Davis out of two guineas, one half guinea, and nine shillings.

John Davis was walking toward Holbourn when Jones met him and asked him if he "wanted a place," which I assume from later testimony means a job. Lo and behold, Davis does, so Jones says, "I just happen know a guy who broke his leg and needs some help. Come on and I'll introduce you."

So off they go to a tavern. There's no man with a broken leg there, but along comes Jones's supposed relative James Gawl, who suggests some "tossing up" (gambling). Jones is all for it, and they play a game called "hide in the hat." To be honest, I don't quite get the way this worked according to the testimony. Maybe you'll have better luck: "they tossed for a guinea. They put a halfpenny under a hat, and tossed at what they call the best two in three. The prisoner won the guinea;"

Was it a matter of heads and tails for the coin under the hat, or what? I have no idea.

Anyway, after Gawl goes out, Jones makes a proposal to Davis: "the prisoner wanted me to go his halves; I said, I have no money to sport with: he said, it was only venturing, there was no danger but that I should get money; so I agreed, that if he lost, I was to give him 6 d. and if he won, he was to give me 6 d."

Now, maybe I'm just not sharp enough today, or Davis isn't the best at describing this plan, but this makes Davis sound rather dim. It certainly sounds as if he could lose money if he has to give Jones 6 d. if Jones loses.

Fortunately, Jones wins, but "the prisoner won, and gave me 6 d: they tossed up two or three times more; the prisoner won every time, but gave me only one 6 d."

So Davis didn't get what he thought he was owed.

But it gets worse: "I would not go any more than a shilling; he put his hand upon mine, and said, this is the very thing; he took my money out of my hand, and said, go my halves: I said, I would not go all that, it is all the money I have: he said, you will be sure to get as much more. The man came in again, but I did not consent to it: they tossed up; then the prisoner said, it is all gone, I have lost 10 l. he would not give me my money; the other man took the money up."

So Jones took his money, gambled with it and lost it.

The hapless Davis continues: "Then the landlord came in, and said, I understand you are gambling, I would have you get out of my house; the kinsman paid for the wine, and paid something over the reckoning. I was frightened, and did not know what to do; it was all done in an instant; they went away, and I soon lost sight of them when they got into the street."

Another witness testifies that this isn't the first time Davis has been arrested for cheating.

Jones's defence? He claims the man who previously accused him was out to get him. He also says Davis offered to drop the case for a guinea, but he -- Jones -- refused, since he didn't do anything wrong. He also claims Davis had a chance to get his money back, but got greedy: "Whether you was not offered twenty five shillings in a cellar in the Strand, by the man that had won your money, and you said, take it back again; if you can give twenty-five shillings, you can give me fifty."

To which Davis replies: "One of Justice Fielding's men, named Wright, took me to meet a friend of the prisoner's, to make it up; he said, I should have all the money again, and I must come before Justice Fielding, and say I was satisfied, and I would not say so; then he said I might go about my business."

The accused replies: "This young man, named Wright, belonging to Sir John Fielding's office, came to me, and said, I hear there is a warrant out against you, and rather than you shall come to any trouble, I will make any satisfaction. He went over to the prosecutor*, who had given the man that took me up, orders to make it up, if he could have any reasonable satisfaction: the man that won the money, offered him twenty-five shillings, and he said, take it back; if you can give that, you can give fifty."

(* This refers to Davis, not an attorney for the crown.)

The jury believed Davis, because the verdict was guilty. Jones was ordered imprisoned a year in Newgate, had to pay a fine of 5 l. and find security for his good behaviour for a year afterwards.

So it seems that we have a con man with a partner who cheats people and when cornered, claims the victims are really out to extort money from him.

Now, there's no explanation for why Davis's walking to Holbourn, or why he needs a job. Davis sounds young to me because he seems naive and easily frightened, but he could be an older guy who falls afoul of skilled con artists who can also be intimidating.

I note that Davis is persistent and determined to see Jones punished, so he could very well be an older man. A younger one might be too embarrassed or afraid to persist.

So there are three characters I think Davis could be: the sibling of a hero or heroine, the father of a hero or heroine, or the hero. If he's the hero, I'd make him too young to know better and perhaps from a very small community where he's known everyone all his life; otherwise he'd seem a bit lacking in brain power, and I like my heroes intelligent.

If Jones is a con man, he could either be a smarmy villain who eventually faces justice, or a hero who's in need of redemption who regrets ripping people off (although he felt, at least in the beginning, it was necessary), or a villain with hero potential.

If he's a villain in one book but the hero of another, he needs a major epiphany somewhere along the way -- but if I'm writing it, the seeds for change have to be planted before he even meets the heroine. He has to have a conscience, the knowledge that what he's doing is wrong, but for some reason, he isn't yet willing or able to stop. Loving the heroine is what gives him that will, and makes him able to do what he must to live a better life.

If I were to use this as a story seedling, I'd be very tempted to have Sir John Fielding, who was called the Blind Beak and could supposedly recognize over 3,000 criminals just by the sound of his or her voice, a secondary character. I mean, can't you see this guy in a courtroom? Law and Order: the Blind Beak.

The other little seedling I find in this is the part of Jones's punishment involving a surety: "Convicts were sometimes required to find sureties. These were men of property who posted a bond to guarantee the convict's future good behaviour. The bond could be for a substantial sum of money, hundreds or thousands of pounds. If the condition of the defendants discharge was violated, the money was forfeited to the king."

It doesn't say how much money was involved in this case, or who, or even if, Davis was successful with this portion of his sentence. But what if you had a character who posted the bond and who then lost all the money because the convicted person ran off or perpetrated another crime?

What if that character was a parent? Brother? Sister? What if the loss of the money was a serious hardship? What might the bond-holder have to do to live? If it's a female, that opens up a whole host of interesting possibilities. What might the bond-holder do in retaliation if they meet/find the criminal responsible?

I suspect that, if I wanted to take a couple of hours, I could come up with a fairly decent synopsis based on some of these ideas. The reason I probably won't? Sir John died in 1780, which puts him in a time period that doesn't really float my boat.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Did the devil make him do it - or something else?

Today from Old Bailey Online:

John Warner was charged with stealing a great coat and jacket that a fisherman, William King, had been using as a blanket and pillow respectively as he slept in his boat.

Bill didn't realize they'd been taken until his brother woke him up and told him. The brother also "called out... stop thief! saying, he'd give any body a shilling to stop that man, for he had ran away with his brother's cloaths."

John was taken after "running over the vessels" (presumably from boat to boat, which is a great, dramatic visual), along with a man named William Godfrey, who testifies that John said, "it was the first time he ever had done such a thing."

John's explanation when he's first taken? he claims "he was bedeviled." (possessed)

John's testimony in court: "I was going to sea, or I had not taken them."

Which I interpret as, I was about to sail and I needed the clothes.

Not much of a defense there, Johnny!

Verdict? No surprise. Guilty. Sentence: transportation for 7 years.

I have no idea what happened to William Godfrey, which makes me think that, once again, he wasn't charged because he testified against John. Which really makes one wonder whether it was a case of who turned first that determined many, many fates.

A couple of interesting seedlings here.

First you've got the victim, sleeping so deeply that he doesn't wake up when somebody's stealing the jacket cushioning his head. Was he bone tired, or passed out? If he was passed out, would he have bothered to take off his coat and use it as a blanket or just laid down as he was?

The brother "called out in his smack" which I think might be smock, which could be his nightshirt. If so, that makes me think he was sleeping in the boat, too, which suggests a larger vessel, which means Bill King's probably sleeping on the deck.

The more I think about it, the more I think Billy was a few sheets to the wind.

So along comes John Warner and his "friend" Bill Godfrey. John's about to sail. Let's say it's a chilly night. He hasn't got a decent coat. He's shivering, he's miserable -- maybe he really doesn't want to sail. Why is he going? Is he a fisherman or...getting out the heck out of Dodge?

He does something he's never done before, or so he claims -- something comes over him and he steals the clothes, with the result that he gets a voyage, all right, but not the one he planned.

Maybe Johnny was a little sloshed himself. Or maybe just cold and desperate. Or maybe, if this is a paranormal story, he really is possessed. What if the "possessor" wants him arrested and transported -- punished. What if Johnny's flight has something to do with the reason the possessor wants him punished?

Or maybe the transportation, which seems like a disaster, is really for Johnny's benefit? What if he'd have been killed or murdered if he'd gone on that other voyage? What if he finds love and prosperity in the New World? Or what if his transportation was necessary for history as we know it to unfold? If he hadn't gone to America, it would have had dire consequences for the future.

One little word ("bedeviled") and I'm concocting a paranormal -- and that's not even my particular genre. The Old Bailey transcripts really are like a (Valentine's) box of chocolates....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Quality of Mercy

Given the verdicts in many of the cases I'm using from Old Bailey Online, it seems pretty clear that justice was harsh back in the day. However, there are times when mercy makes an appearance. Today's case is an example.

Christopher Peterson, who also goes by the interesting moniker "Jack the Sailor" which is never explained, is accused of shoplifting. He and two others apparently stole some tea, the two others screening Chris as he took it from a shop. One of Chris's partners-in-crime was later transported for stealing two perukes (wigs). The one testifying against him was in Newgate and "bound to an Attorney." I'm not quite sure what that means, but believe he was likely released for turning evidence against Chris.

Chris's defense? "I have nothing at all to say. I leave it in your Hands, my Lord. I have no Friend in the World."

Verdict? Guilty. Sentence? Death.

But then the Jury recommended him for Mercy. Whether that means imprisonment or transportation, I'm not sure. What happened to Chris? I don't know. But clearly, the jury took pity on him. I must say "I have no Friend in the World" struck me as sad. It could be a ploy to gain the jury's sympathy, but it worked on me, too.

A couple of things intrigue me about this case and could be interesting to consider when plotting a story besides Chris's plea and the jury's recommendation.

The first is his nickname. Why Jack, when his name is Christopher? Why the sailor? Was he a sea-faring guy? If so, why not Jack the Seaman? Jack the Tar?

How come he has no friends to vouch for him?

He was clearly hanging out with thieves at one point, but he's certainly no criminal mastermind and the jury obviously didn't see him as a hardened criminal deserving of the noose.

How old was he? There's no way to tell.

So I'm free to imagine Chris as a young man who falls in with the wrong crowd, or is driven to that crowd by poverty. Or maybe it's peer pressure. Maybe he's not broke, but middle-class and this is a lark gone terribly wrong.

Maybe he's a young man who likes taking a walk on the wild side, hence he goes by "Jack the sailor" when he's wandering around the unsavory parts of town. Say he gets drunk and decides to go along with the theft. He thinks it'll be fun. Exciting. Dangerous. Maybe he thinks this will impress his "friends" and perhaps a girl.

Then he's caught. His family are horrified and ashamed. They throw up their hands or disown him. He figures he's doomed -- and justly so, as he realizes the shame he's brought them.

He's alone in the world and might as well die.

But the jury takes pity on him. They give him a chance to live and redeem himself. He goes to prison for a few years, or is transported, and when it's over, returns.

Maybe he wants to find out what happened to the girl he hoped to impress, and the others who were with him during the theft. Maybe they've come to bad ends, or perhaps they've prospered. What about the guy "bound to an attorney?" What if he's made a completely new life for himself and Chris's return threatens that? What if he's married or is about to marry, the girl Chris was so desperate to impress?

What about Chris's family? What if they aren't too thrilled to see him come back? What if some are, but others aren't? What if they thought he was dead?

What if Chris is a woman? What if she calls herself "Jack the Sailor" because she likes to be "one of the boys" and dresses accordingly so people think she is a boy or young man? What if she's the one seeking fun and excitement? What if she's caught and convicted and everybody still thinks she's a guy?

What if, instead of being convicted, she's found innocent, but somebody on the jury, or the judge, realizes she's a young woman? What if they also think she's really guilty but don't want to reveal the truth about her? This person could be the villain, using that knowledge to get her to do as he wants. He could be the hero who wants to help because he doesn't believe she's really guilty, or if she is, she had a good reason to steal. How does he feel when he finds out she was doing it for the thrill? What then? What if he starts off determined to use his realization of her true identity against her, then falls in love with her?

See, even a short, simple case can have plenty of fodder for story ideas. What starts out straightforward and simple can be made complicated, with lots of conflict and drama, by asking "what if?"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fool us once, shame on you. Try to fool us twice, you're transported.

I laughed while reading the case on Old Bailey Online today, but not because of the crime itself, which was another theft. It was the snide opinion of the court stenographer that crept into the account.

Charles Dickens worked as a court stenographer. No wonder he wrote such colorful characters, especially the thieves and pickpockets. I bet he saw plenty of real Artful Dodgers in his day.

Now to today's case:

Samuel Cobb and John Ryley were charged with stealing two pewter gallon pots from a wine merchant. The evidence against them comes via their former partner-in-crime, John Brown, who escapes being charged by turning "evidence," or testifying against them. He says that Ryley was the look-out, Cobb the one who took the pots, which were hidden behind a pump before they went back intending to take the money-box. But by that time, the theft had been discovered, so they took the pots and ran.

Brown got paid off and went his own way. There was another man in cahoots with them, Moses Holloway, but he doesn't get charged, presumably because he turned evidence in another case of theft regarding some tea.

Cobb declares that they shouldn't listen to Brown, who's been twice transported (!!) under a different name.

Four people then testify as to Cobb's character -- that he's one fine upstanding citizen. Prior to forensics and video surveillance, this was the sort of evidence the court had to rely on.

Cobb and Ryley are acquitted.

However, Sam Cobb is ordered tried for another theft, of a gown from a clothesline. He was seen taking the gown and caught.

The man who caught him, James Jephson, is asked, "How came you to go after him?"

He replies (I imagine this with a look that says, Are you an idiot?"): "By Reason the last Witness cried out Stop Thief!"


So Cobb's caught red-handed, as it were. But lo! The court stenographer writes:

"All Cobb's Friends and Neighbours appeared for him again, as upon his former Trial, saying they never heard any hurt of him, a very sober honest Man;"

Then our anonymous court stenographer writes:

"either they must have been very ignorant of his Conduct, which can hardly be imagined, or, what is to be feared, much worse, all perjured; for he is the very Person that was tried the last Sessions; was taken among a Nest of Thieves, and appeared to the Court to be a very bad young Fellow."

Oh, snap!

Cobb is found guilty and ordered transported. But does he take this like the tough guy I can imagine he pretended to be? Nope.

"he cried, and pleaded hard not to be sent out of his native Country, but he was too well known to be suffered to remain any longer in his own."

Double snap!

But really, the thing I love about this is the point of view of the court stenographer that sneaks in. I can see a secondary character there for sure, and possibly a hero who somehow gets involved in a case.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A "very bad boy" or betrayed?

Many of the Old Bailey cases involve pick-pocketing, and today's case from 1754 is no exception.

John Weatley was charged with stealing the handkerchief of Charles Appleby. According to Appleby, "I saw the glimpse of something fly by the side of my face, and turning saw the prisoner with my silk handkerchief in his hand. I took him by the collar. He said he would go with me where I pleased. I took him to the Fountain Tavern, sent for a constable, and he was secured."

Appleby later testifies that he'd used the handkerchief about "three minutes" before. (Let me pause here for an "eeeuuww.")

John's defense: "I never did such a thing in my life. Please to examine Mr. Lilley to my character."

Wrong guy to ask, Johnny Boy, because Mr. Lilley says, "He is a very bad boy, I have seen him a drawer at an alehouse, he has been here two or three times, and is as bad a boy as can be."

A drawer can mean one who draws -- pours -- liquor. However, according to my dictionary of historical slang, to draw can also mean to pick pockets. I'm not exactly sure which one Mr. Lilley means here. However, I presume by "here" he means at the Old Bailey. In other words, Johnny's apparently been arrested and charged before.

Whatever he meant, Mr. Lilley's words are damning and John is sentenced to transportation for seven years. Value of the handkerchief he allegedly stole? Two shillings and sixpence.

Aside from the low value of the item that gets John transported, two things stand out for me here as story seedlings.

The first is Appleby's description of getting a glimpse of something flying by his face that alerted him to the theft.

Now, just how tall and how old is Johnny? Or was Appleby crouching? This sounds as if Johnny was waving it as he ran by, or pulled it out and held it aloft. Not too subtle there.

The other thing is Johnny's calling Mr. Lilley to speak up for him, only to have Lilley vehemently denounce him.

There's no hint as to what relationship Lilley had with the defendant, which means I'm free to come up with my own. Lilley could be a former employer, relative, or friend of the family. Clearly Johnny didn't expect him to denounce him, or surely he wouldn't have called on the guy.

So what's with the betrayal of Johnny? Maybe Johnny deserved it. Maybe he's been blackmailing Lilley and when he's caught, expects Lilley to get him off and Lilley doesn't, perhaps seeing this as a chance to get rid of Johnny.

Or maybe Johnny's not the "bad boy" Lilley paints, but Lilley wants him out of the way. If I were using this in a romance, Lilley could have designs on Johnny's sister and sees this as a chance to get him out of the picture.

How's Sis going to feel when she finds out what happened? How would Lilley excuse his testimony? What if Sis isn't in London? This is a minor case, so I don't think it'd make the papers; she'd have to take Lilley's word for what happened. He could lie.

What if Johnny's our hero and returns to England after seven plus years, only now he's rich, having made a bundle in America (Australia not being used for this purpose until 1788, although of course you could set this later) and has revenge on his mind? What if Sis is dead? What if Sis is alive and married to Lilley? What if there are kids?

What if Appleby was in on the false conviction? That might explain that rather fanciful description.

Either way, seven years transportation is one tough sentence for such a crime.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two brothers, an uncle and attempted murder

On this day in 1793, somebody wounded Richard Lloyd the elder by shooting him in the head with a pistol as he sat reading in the parlor. His nephew, also named Richard Lloyd, was charged with the crime.

Rick was in the parlor at the time of the shooting and Uncle Richard assumed Rick was reading, too, although he didn't actually see the boy. Suddenly, a gun went off. Uncle Richard stood up (I suspect "leapt to his feet" would be more accurate) and cried out, "My God! my God! what is this you have done!" Rick doesn't say a word, but "walked out" into the yard, then to the wash house. Ater that, Rick wound up at a neighbor's, where he was found and arrested.

Uncle Richard never saw a pistol or gun in his nephew's possession at any time that day. He and his nephew had apparently lived "comfortable together" and as far as he could tell, his nephew wasn't mentally ill.

I find it interesting that Uncle Richard says Rick walked into the yard. Although the uncle thought he looked frightened, he wasn't running. Also, the first thing Uncle Richard thinks is that Rick did it. However, if he didn't see anybody else, that might very well be the conclusion he would jump to.

Next comes the testimony of constable Robert Dawson, and here's where it gets even more interesting. Young Rick has an older brother who was originally arrested for the crime because a box of pistols, shot and powder were found in his possession. Turns out Rick's brother, who is not named, might not be the most upstanding member of society, having been apprenticed and run away from his master. The constable doesn't know "how he lived" - how he earned his keep, I gather. Older Bro had lived with Uncle Richard for about 12 years, had frequently been to the house, but Uncle Richard hadn't seen him that day.

Uncle Richard (called the prosecutor, because it was the victim who brought the charges at that time) is questioned further and reveals that the window of the parlor wasn't broken; he can't remember if it was open or not. He can't remember smelling gun powder. If he was shot by somebody in the same room, you'd think he would. However, Uncle Richard also says that the ball "extracted" from him does not resemble the ball found in Older Bro's possession.

Yikes! And oh, for forensics, eh?

I would dearly love to know why Older Bro was released, and have to think it must be this bit of evidence. So Rick, presumably because he was the only other person around at the time of the shooting, got charged instead.

The jury then asks a question -- When Rick was arrested, was he searched?


So Rick was never found to have any weapons on him, and although it's not stated, I assume none were found in the parlor after the shooting.

Rick's found not guilty.

Whew - there's a lot of story seedlings here! The two brothers, one of whom may be a ne'er-do-well. The apparently benign uncle who's given them a home for several years who gets shot at. Who stands to inherit? Methinks Older Bro. What happened to their parents? Why did Older Bro leave his job? What exactly was the relationship between the uncle and his nephews? Was it as happy as he thought? Is he lying through his teeth? Was he really a vicious miser who abused them physically, mentally or both? Who can say what secrets lurk within that family?

If Older Bro did the shooting, did Rick know he was going to? Did he see him coming? Was he in the parlor to open the window?

The constable originally arrested the brother, who had possession of pistols in his lodgings. There were also two children alone in the house. There's another seedling for a subplot, or even potential sequel characters.

Why did the jury find Rick innocent? The stronger evidence against the brother? The fact that Rick didn't run far? That the uncle can't remember smelling gun powder? The uncle's testimony that he and Rick were on good terms?

If I were to use some of these ideas for a romance, something is obviously missing: a heroine. You could fix that by having a brother and a sister instead of two brothers. Or two sisters. Or you could invent a completely new character who's either already involved with this family, or becomes involved because of this incident. Maybe she's the neighbor in whose house Rick was found.

Yep, lots of ideas with this case!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Maybe not a plot, but certainly a character

Sometimes, research can give you an idea for a plot. And sometimes, you may find just a character.

Today, for instance, at the Old Bailey Online, I find not enough for a plot, but such a piece of testimony, I could have a fine old time basing a character on it.

John Lee is accused of stealing a trunk from the boot (back) of a coach. A trunk covered in "hair skin", no less. Does that make it more expensive? I don't know.

At any rate, the coachman, William Miller, claims the trunk was in the boot, then he saw John Lee take it. Or, as he apparently put it, "a man came and tried to take the trunk off; he dropped it down, and I caught him myself, the trunk is here; the prisoner is the man, I saw him come and take it, I stood by the fire while I saw him take it, it was about a quarter before five, the 24th of January."

The part that really caught my interest was "the trunk is here, the prisoner is the man" which has a neat sort of rhythm, as well as the repetition of "I saw him come and take it, I stood by the fire while I saw him take it."

In my mind, I could see this guy as pretty agitated and excited, either by what happened or because he's in court and testifying.

Miller then goes on to say, when questioned, that "he was never out of my sight, he did not run twenty yards; I said nothing to him, he dropped it, I pushed after him, and he threw it down, and I took him."

Pretty basic, and yet I could still see this as agitated and excited, ending with the triumphant, "and I took him."

John Lee's defense? "I never saw the box at all, I have no witnesses."

And thus, no alibi, either, apparently.

The judge believed Miller, and John Lee was sentenced to be twice whipped and jailed one week in Newgate.

William Miller might not make a hero, but he could certainly be a great secondary character, either as a coachman, a valet, or some other sort of servant. And a similar sort of recitation of events need not be in court. It could be in a drawing room, maybe right after the event and perhaps be a pivotal point in a plot.

So...wait a minute...there might be a plot in there after all, starting with answering the question, "What's in the trunk?"

Then, why is John Lee stealing it? Does he know what's inside and want or need it? Was he simply paid to steal a trunk without knowing what's inside? If so, by whom? And why?

Yep, seems there's a few seedlings in here, after all!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Not every crime in a story need be theft or murder

Here's a case from today's Old Bailey Online that demonstrates that not every crime in a novel need be as serious as theft or murder to give a writer a lot of story possibilities.

Thomas Eady was charged with damage to property, for the unlawful cutting down of a horse chestnut tree on land leased from "Mary Jane Dowager Lady Dacre" by Sir William Dolben, a baronet. (Shades of Sir Walter Elliot!).

As the case proceeds, it's clear that there was a chestnut tree cut down, it was chopped up into four pieces, and loaded into a cart by Eady and two others known only as Welch and Crow. Later boards of chestnut were found in the establishment of a man named Webb, who has run away. Apparently Welch and Crow had absconded as well, as a search of Old Bailey Online didn't turn up anyone by those names being charged with that crime in 1798. I do note, however, that "There were two other Counts for a similar offence, varying the manner of charging it." Maybe this refers to Welch and Crow? I'm not sure.

Tom claims that he only helped load the wood, not cut down the tree.

Interestingly, Sir William Dolben gives Tom a "good character," and Tom is let off with a fine of 1 shilling. This tells me that they believed Tom only helped with the loading and not the cutting - although why Tom would think the cutting was legitimate is not explained, and we don't know who Welch and Crow might have been. Perhaps they claimed they had permission, although the fact this was apparently done at night might have given Tom pause. It also makes me wonder if Tom wasn't too bright, and everybody knew it, so they could believe he could buy whatever story Welch and Crow told him about the circumstances.

What gets my story-telling imagination going with this case, however, is the discrepancies. When Tom's taken into custody and is allowed to go home to leave his tools, his father, with whom he lives, is reported to have said, "why, you were not concerned with Welch and Crow in stealing that tree; the prisoner said, yes I was; the old man said, oh dear, to many domes as I have asked you about it, and you have always denied it..." I was confused by "to many domes" so I looked at the original text and I believe it actually says, "so many times".

So apparently Father had questioned his son about the tree, and the son had always denied being involved. One could argue that if Tom only helped load the wood, he wasn't directly involved and perhaps that's what he meant, but I find it interesting the Father is ready to believe his son has been lying to him. However, I also note that Father is not called upon to repeat this in court; this is reported by a constable named Trott.

Also, according to another constable named Pidkin (I can't make up names like these!), Tom freely confessed that not only had he helped cut it down, "there was a d-d deal of trouble in it, it lodged in the next tree, and we were forced to cut off three lengths before it would drop..."

Now, either Tom said this, or he didn't. If he did help cut down the tree, why would he confess to the point where he's complaining about the effort it took to the constable when he's in custody and then deny it on the stand? Is he lying on the stand? Perhaps, although Sir William apparently thinks he's a good guy.

Or is the constable lying? Why would he do that, especially when it seems Sir William liked the guy enough to speak for him at the trial? And why put it so graphically (with the cursing)? And is Trott lying, too, about what his father said?

Or could both stories be true? What if Tom was intellectually impaired but also eager to please and seem like a "regular guy," or perhaps even a tough guy. Constable Trott's questions give Tom the notion that Trott will be impressed if he helped cut down the tree, especially such a large one. So he says yes, he did it -- and what's more, it wasn't easy. He isn't thinking of the consequences of that confession; he's only trying to impress the constable and seem like a formidable fellow.

What if one or both of the constables have it in for Tom? What if Tom's relatively light sentence angers them?

What's the deal with Tom and his father? Father seems so ready to believe Tom's guilty -- why? What does that say about their relationship? What caused that? Or is Constable Trott lying about what he heard? Why would he do that?

If I were to write a story based on this, I'd have Tom either slightly mentally retarded or so young he could be naive enough to be tricked/conned by Welch and Crow to help them. Then I'd give him a sister, and make her the heroine. Sir William becomes a handsome nobleman who wants to believe Tom's not involved, but can't deny at least some of the evidence against him.

According to the transcript, Tom works as a laborer, so clearly the family's not well to do. What if Sis is in service at Sir William's house? That gives them an existing relationship of master and servant, and would serve to bring them together and keep them in contact.

Sis could be very protective of Tom, especially if Father's constantly expressing his disappointment in his son, or always suspecting him of being up to no good (perhaps because of a childhood incident of minor theft or lying).

Let's think about Constable Pidkin, the one who claims to have heard Tom confess. Maybe he's a jilted suitor of Sis. Or maybe he has another reason for wanting Tom imprisoned. Maybe he thinks Tom's some kind of threat to the community and takes this incident with the tree as evidence to prove his point. He could be well-meaning, but over-zealous.

If Trott and Pidkin are both lying, obviously they're friends -- unless you wanted to have Trott forcing Pidkin to lie for him for some reason, or vice versa. That would make for another layer of conflict.

Maybe Sis had a relationship with Pidkin or Trott, but the appearance/arrival/presence of Sir William has affected her feelings as in, she's way more attracted to Sir William than the constable. But there's no way a baronet's going to marry a maid. They could certainly become lovers, though.

And what about Welch and Crow? Do they return to make more trouble?

This is a relatively minor legal action - truly a seedling. But there are many ways one could grow a story out of it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Don't come back too soon!

Today's case highlighted at Old Bailey Online concerns a man "indicted for having been found at large in the city of London before the expiration of the term for which he had received sentence to be transported." Not only that, but apparently he was up to his old tricks, trying to break into a house. Other witnesses identified him as a man sentenced to transportation for robbery.

The prisoner's explanation? He was "taken up" in Philadelphia, accused of being a convict from England and they were going to keep him imprisoned unless he "left the province." So he got on a ship that was supposedly going to let him off at one of the "lower provinces" but the captain wouldn't let him go and they sailed to Bristol.

A witness agreed that the accused (Joseph Taylor) had been imprisoned in Philadelphia and accused of being a convict from England, and that he was taken by two officers to the ship bound for Bristol, "but did not know whether he objected to going on board that ship or not."

Verdict? Death.

Why death? Because if you returned from transportation before the completion of your sentence, you would be subject to the other penalty for the crime for which you were convicted, which was usually death.

However, I note that the witness in America says Joseph Taylor was escorted to the ship by two officers. That doesn't sound like Joe had a lot of choice in the matter.

On the other hand, why was Joe arrested in Philadelphia in the first place? Was being a convict in England enough? I'd have to do some more research on that, although if I wanted to avoid a lot of time trying to find out something that may not be easily got, I'd have Joe caught stealing again. After all, he was caught doing that back in England. What would have happened if the man had just laid low and gotten a regular job?

Here's how I'd use such a situation for a story seedling:

If I wanted to make Joe the hero, he'd either have been falsely accused and convicted, or else on the road to redemption. But something happens that forces him to return to England -- either he's caught and sent back against his will, or he willingly returns because he has a compelling reason, even though he knows he'll be executed if he's caught.

Or I could have had him already be back in England, living under another alias and leading an honest life, while carrying the burden of his secret and the knowledge of what might happen if the truth is discovered. I'd have to decide if he was innocent and falsely accused, or guilty and trying to redeem himself.

What of the heroine? Well, she could either be completely unaware of the past and what can happen if he's discovered, or somehow involved in the original charge and conviction.

What if she's completely ignorant of his past? The man she's falling in love with is keeping something from her. What? How important is it? Does it involve another woman? Maybe it does -- that would add another layer to the conflict. Why was Joe stealing? To survive? To retrieve something? Something incriminating that belonged to the woman he thought he loved? Or did she put him up to it and he was naive enough to agree? That could make a guy bitter, so not only does Joe have this secret that could have life-threatening consequences, he feels wronged by a woman. It'd take some heroine to get that guy to not just fall in love, but express it.

But let's not stop there. What if it's not Joseph Taylor, but Josephine? And what if one of the people who recognizes her back in England is the man who loved her and believes she betrayed him? Does he rat her out? Or does he approach her and...what? Offer to keep quiet if she'll sleep with him? If I wanted to write an erotic historical, this might be a way to go.

If he's just a guy who recognizes her, he could make the same threat, and then he'd be a villain. Who would the hero be? Could be a relative who wonders about Villain's new squeeze and realizes she's been coerced. Could be a friend of the villain, or perhaps a man from her past who also recognizes her. Would she admit what's going on? Pretend she's a willing participant? Beg him to forget her? Fear he was going to turn her in?

Clearly, there are a couple of ways I could go with such a story. How do I decide? I go with what's going to give me interesting characters with a compelling backstory and an interesting, deep conflict on multiple levels that will (hopefully) pack the biggest emotional whallop for the reader.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Murder and Motive

On January 11, 1732, John Tapper was brought to trial for the murder, by stabbing, of Joseph Cannon.

The chief witness for the prosecution was Joseph Rohan, who claimed that the deceased got upset while playing cards and gambling. He wanted to pawn his vest to gamble some more, his wife got angry, he chased her out of the house to a neighbor's, where she may or may not have miscarried (later in the transcript at Old Bailey Online, it isn't clear that this happened). And then Rohan adds insult to injury: "By and by some-body came in, and told him (the deceased), his Wife was miscarried; What, says the Prisoner to the Deceas'd, was your Wife with Child? Yes, says the Deceas'd, and that's more than yours will ever be. How do ye know that? says the Prisoner. Because, Mr. Tapper, says the Deceas'd, I have tapp'd her many a time. Have ye so? says Tapper, Why then, G - d d - n ye, I'll tap you."

Council gets Rohan to admit both the men had been drinking, that the two men often quarreled, that the deceased had stumbled over the accused while the accused was sharpening his knife, which he'd just been using on his fingernails (!). Rohan then goes on to say that when he met the accused later, the accused said, "I am only sorry that I did not give him a prick on the other side."

Other witnesses for the prosecution are called and interestingly, all offer similar, yet slightly different reports of the accused's remarks after the incident. Ann Hoskins claims he said, "I am only sorry that I did not cut his Throat." Joseph Ackers credits him with declaring, "I'll go and pay the Surgeon the half Guinea, and then I'll stab him [Cannon] on the other side." Richard Austin says he said, "if any Body would give him a Quartern of Gin he would stick him on the other side, and send him out of the World." Mary Richards (yes, that gave me a Mary Tyler Moore vision) claims he said, "Damn him, I'll give him a prick on the other side, and that will set him upright."

Now, maybe I've seen too many episodes of Law and Order, but it was as if somebody told them to say the accused said he was sorry he hadn't also stabbed the victim "on the other side" as well, and each witness then came up with their own embellishment to the basic story.

And then nurse Margaret Roberts states, in what I cannot help but imagine is a melodramatic way: "A little before the Deceas'd dy'd, he took me by the Hand, and said, Tapper is the Man that has murder'd me, and I expect that you will see him brought to Justice, that he may suffer himself as he has made me suffer."

Is it just me, or does this seem a little over-the-top? And why on earth would the dying man say such a thing to the nurse?

Then we get the council for the defense asking questions, and lo and behold, a very different picture of the fight/quarrel/stabbing and the aftermath. It seems the deceased was surprised to learn of the wound and didn't consider it very serious, even saying at one point that "Damn it, I don't mind it, I'll drink it off." His main concern seemed to be getting the accused to pay the cost of his treatment from the surgeon, who likewise didn't consider the wound very serious at first. (It sounds as if he died from slow internal bleeding.)

It also seems the deceased blamed another person entirely for the cut: his wife. According to witness Thomas Williamson, the deceased said, "He told me, if it had not been for the Bitch his Wife, it had never happen'd, for he had never minded the Prisoner whetting his Knife, if she had not put him in a Passion, and that thereupon he push'd the Prisoner against the Table." Edward Wilcox repeated a similar remark. Nobody else heard the insult regarding "tapping" the accused's wife.

I notice Mrs. Cotton, wife of the deceased, was not called upon to testify. Neither was her mother, with whom they lived. I suspect, all things considered, Mrs. Cannon was not particularly sorry her drinking, gambling husband who had chased her with the intent of beating her was dead.

Several others were called to provide evidence of Tapper's generally benign temperament, and the death was ruled an accident.

If I were to make a romance out of this, I'd have Tapper the hero, falsely accused after accidentally killing another gambler. You could have him be Lord Tapper, and have the game at a gentleman's club, if you wanted to set this in the 19th century. Or at a house party, if you wanted to keep the cast of characters small and the setting claustrophobic, to make for more suspense and conflict.

Rohan seems to be have a beef against Tapper, because he's the only one who mentions the alleged insult to Tapper's manhood and that the deceased claimed he'd slept with Tapper's wife, in an attempt, or so it sounds to me, to give Tapper a motive for the stabbing, to bolster the notion that it wasn't accidental. There's something to think about. What reason could Rohan have to hate Tapper that much? And it's interesting that he comes up with adultery for a possible motive. You could probably get some interesting conflict, both internal and external, out of that.

And then we need a heroine. Tapper must have been married for Rohan to come up with that insult. Let's say Lord Tapper is married -- but estranged from his wife. His Grace, the Duke of Rohan, repeats the rumor that Earl Cotton claimed to have slept with her. Does Lord Tapper believe that, or not? Do other people? What of Lady Tapper? What does she do when she hears this rumor? What is her reaction to the notion that her husband's heard the rumor?

What does she think when she learns her estranged husband may have killed a man, and the very man to whom she's been scandalously linked? Does she think him capable of such an act? Is she afraid of what he might do to her?

At some point and fairly close to the start of the novel you'd have to get them together. Personally, I'd be tempted to have them in a relatively isolated setting (say, a country house), where they're forced to interact, so you could keep the emotional intensity at a pretty high level.

So you've got a hero, a heroine, a setting, a situation to get the ball of reconciliation rolling.

There's one other thing I get from this transcript and I do believe I'll keep in my mental file. That would be the nurse, the hopelessly melodramatic, romantic Margaret Roberts. I just love how she describes the deceased, who sounds like a drunken, vicious brute, holding her hand and expecting her to see that justice is done. I think she'd make a fun secondary character.

Or if humor's not your particular thing, she could be one seriously disturbed stalker.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Woman Scorned...?

On January 8, 1793, William and Elizabeth Hitchins were on trial, charged with the theft of the household goods of Hannah Fisher. In fact, they were accused of stripping Hannah's house clean, taking all the furniture, linens, etc. while she was ill.

As I started reading this transcript at Old Bailey Online, I thought poor Hannah Fisher had been ripped off by her tenants. That she was a sick and elderly woman who was likely senile, too, because her answers were extremely vague and she'd been so slow to take action when she was being robbed and immediately afterward.

However, no ages of the participants was noted, and as I read on, it morphed into a different case entirely.

Hannah wasn't just sick -- they forced her to stay in her room. Well, no, the door wasn't locked -- but they'd threatened her! Still, I thought that could very well be.

Until the defense attorney started asking the questions. (Note, having a defense attorney was a very new thing in 1793 and their function was still limited. For instance, they had no power to compel witnesses to appear.) It seems Hannah and William the hairdresser had been living together after the death of Hannah's husband. Hannah couldn't say who bought the furniture. She denied that William had paid the rent directly (the "customers" had done it); she denied William had paid to outfit her son to go to America. She couldn't remember who had paid for her household goods, or when she'd gotten them.

And just when did Hannah decide to charge William and Elizabeth Hitchins with theft?

A fortnight after William married Elizabeth.

Yep, sounds like Hannah was miffed William married somebody else after living with her for over ten years.

Seems the jury might have gotten that idea, too, because the verdict was "not guilty."

How would I use this? Well, it's not like a woman scorned hasn't been a villain in a romance novel before. And frankly, this woman doesn't sound like the brightest light, given her answers. I really thought she was senile. She could be the sort of woman who figures if she bats her eyelashes and flirts she'll get what she wants, but that's been done a lot, I think.

What if William's the villain? What if he claimed to love Hannah and was going to marry her? What if she really was sick and that's why she's so confused? What if William drugged her? If so, it would take some nerve to accuse him and go to court with her cloudy memories.

What if Hannah honestly believed she was married to William and he faked the marriage ceremony? This did happen. And then he drugs her and robs her blind and marries somebody else. Maybe Lizzie's in cahoots, maybe not. There'd be more opportunities for conflict if she wasn't.

I'd shorten the time span between the marriage and the robbery if I were going to go this route with a romance novel.

And then who's the hero?

I've done attorney heroes (one a Regency barrister, one a Restoration solicitor), so I'd probably go with the defense attorney because there's a good opportunity for conflict. The hero's defending the guy who duped and robbed the heroine. He starts to fall in love with her and doubt his client even as William is painting her as a complete psycho who ought to be in Bedlam. He might even get her sent there...which could make for some pretty dramatic scenes and one mighty heart-wrenching rescue and reunion.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Taking a break

I have a lot coming up this summer, so I won't be doing any more Story Seedling postings until September.

Until then, you can follow me at my other blog or via my website. You can also sign up for my email newsletter and become eligible for my monthly draw for a $25 electronic gift certificate from Amazon.

Have a safe and happy summer!

On temporary hiatus

This summer is a busy one for me, so I won't be doing any more Story Seedling posts until September. Until then, have a safe and happy summer.
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