William Johnson and Jane Housden

Perpetrators : William Johnson and Jane Housden

The Crime: Murder of a turnkey at the old Bailey

The Victim: Mr Spurling

Weapon of Choice : Pistol

Motive: Unknown

Date: September, 1714

Punishment: Both hanged, then Johnson's body placed in chains and hung in Holloway

The Story :

It is not a little remarkable that two instances should have occurred within so short a space of time as nine months, in which the officers of the Crown should have fallen victims to the exertions which they were compelled to make in the discharge of their duties.

The male prisoner in this ease, William Johnson, was a native of Northamptonshire, where he served his time to a butcher, and, removing to London, he opened a shop in Newport Market ; but business not succeeding to his expectation, he pursued a variety of speculations, until at length he sailed to Gibraltar, where he was appointed a mate to one of the surgeons of the garrison. Having saved some money at this place, he came back to his native country, where he soon spent it, and then had recourse to the highway for a supply.

Being apprehended in consequence of one of his robberies, he was convicted, but received a pardon. Previously to this he had been acquainted with Jane Housden, his fellow in crime, who had been tried and convicted of coining, but had obtained a pardon ; but who, in September, 1714, was again in custody for a similar offence.

On the day that she was to be tried, and just as she was brought down to the bar of the Old Bailey, Johnson called to see her; but Mr. Spurling, the head turnkey, telling him that he could not speak to her till her trial was ended, he instantly drew a pistol, and shot Spurling dead on the spot, in the presence of the court and all the persons attending to hear the trials, Mrs. Housden at the same time encouraging him in the perpetration of this singular murder.

The event had no sooner happened, than the judges, thinking it unnecessary to proceed on the trial of the woman for coining, ordered both the parties to be tried for the murder ; and there being many witnesses to the deed, they were convicted, and received sentence of death.

From this time to that of their execution, which took place September 19th 1714, and even at the place of their death, they behaved as if they were wholly insensible of the enormity of the crime which they had committed ; and notwithstanding the publicity of their offence, they had the confidence to deny it to the last moment of their lives : nor did they show any signs of compunction for their former sins. After hanging the usual time, Johnson was hung in chains near Holloway, between Islington and Highgate.