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“ limb or member of any person, with intent to " maim or disfigure, fhall be felony without be“nefit of clergy.” By this law it is likewise enacted that “ Accessaries shall be deemed prin
pals.' The parties whose crimes we are about to relate were the first who were executed on this act.
Mr. Cooke was born near Bury St. Edmonds in the county of Suffolk. His father was a man of fortune, and when he had given him an univerfity education, he sent him to the Temple to study the law, after which he was called to the bar, and acted as a counsellor. After some time he married a young lady, the sister of Mr. Crisp, who lived in the neighbourhcod of his native place.
Mr. Crisp being a gentleman of large property hut of a bad state of health, made his will in favour of Cooke, subject only to a jointure for his sister's use, which was likewise to become the property of the counsellor, in case the lady died before her husband.
It was not long after Mr. Crisp had made his will, before he recovered his health in some degree ; but he continued an infirm man, though he lived a number of years. This partial recovery. gave great uneasiness to Cooke, who wishing to possess the estate, was anxious for the death of his brother-in-law, though, as he had art enough to conceal his sentiments, they appeared to live on tolerable terins.
However, he at length grew so impatient that he could not come into possession by the death of Mr. Crisp, that he resolved to remove him by murder; and for that purpose engaged John Woodburne, a labouring man, who had six chil
dren, to affist him in the execution of his diabo. lical plan.
For this piece of service he promised to give Woodburne a hundred pounds. The man was unwilling to be concerned in this execrable bufiness; but reflections on his poverty, and the largeness of his family, tempted him to comply.
On this it was agreed that the murder should be perpetrated on Christmas evening, and as Mr. Crisp was to dine with Mr. Cooke on that day, and the church-yard lay between one house and the other, Woudburne was to wait, concealed behind one of the tomb-stones, till Cooke gave him the signal for the attack, which was to be a loud whistle.
Crisp came to his appointment, and dined and drank tea with his brother-in-law; but declining to stay to supper, he left the house about nine o'clock, and was almost immediately followed into the church-yard by Cooke, who giving the agreed signal to Woodburne, the latter quitted his place of retreat, knocked down the unhappy man, and cut and maimed him in a terrible manner; in which he was aberted by the counsellor.
Imagining that they had dispatched him, Mr. Cooke rewarded Woodburne with a few shillings, and instantly went home; but he had not been arrived more than a quarter of an hour before Crisp knocked at the door, and entered covered with wounds, and almost dead through loss of blood. He was unable to speak, but by his looks seemed to accuse Cooke with the intended mur. der, and was then put to bed, and his wounds dressed by a surgeon.
At the end of about a week he was so much mended as to be removed to his own house. He had no doubo but that Cooke was one of the per: fons who had assaulted him: but had resolved not to speak of the affair till future circumstances made it necessary for him to inform a court of justice of what had happened.
The intended affassination having greatly engaged the attention of the neighbours, Woodburne was apprehended on suspicion ; when making a discovery of the whole truth, Cooke was also taken into custody. They were brought to their trials at the next aslizes, when both of them were convicted.
When they were called up to receive sentence of death, Cooke desired to be heard; and the court complying with his request, he urged that“ Judg
ment could not pass on the verdict, because the “ act of parliament simply mentions an intention “ to maim or deface, whereas he was firmly re« folved to have committed murder."
He quoted several law-cafes in favour of the arguments he had advanced, and hoped that judgment might be respited till the opinion of the twelve judges could be taken on the cause. The council for the crown opposed the arguments of Mr. Cooke, insisted that the crime came within the meaning of the law, and hoped that judgment would pass against the prisoners.
Lord chief justice King, who presided on this occasion, declared that he could not admit the force of Mr. Cooke's plea, consistent with his own oath as a judge ; " for (said he) it would " establish a principle in the law, inconsistent as with the first dictates of natural reason; as the “ greatest villain might, when convicted of a “ smaller offence, plead that the judgment must
be arrested, because he intended to commit a cs
greater. In the present instance (said he) judgment cannot be arrested, as the intention
" is naturally implied, when the crime is actually " committed
His lordship said. that “ Crisp was assassinated w in the manner laid in the indictment; it is os therefore to be taken for granted that the in6 tention was to maim and deface; wherefore " the court will proceed to give judgment:" and accordingly sentence of death was passed on the prisoners.
After condemnation Cooke employed his time principally in endeavours to procure a pardon : and when he found his expectations fail him, he grew reserved, and would not admit even the visits of his friends. On the contrary, Woodburne was all penitence and contrition, sincerely lamenting the crime he had been guilty of, and the miserable situation in which he left his poor children.
A short time before the day of execution Cooke wrote to the sheriff, requesting that he might be hanged in the night, to prevent his being exposed to the country-people, who were expected from all the adjacent towns and villages: and in consequence hercof he was hanged at four o'clock in the morning, and Woodburne was executed in the afternoon of the same day. The latter behaved with every sign of penitence; but Cooke's conduct was very unfeeling, and he absolutely refused to confess his crime.
These malefactors were executed at Bury St. Edmonds, on the 5th of April, 1722,
Serious reflections may well be made on the above melancholy tale. The baseness of Cooke's heart must render him an object of detestation to every feeling mind. Of all the vices that can degrade humanity, covetousness is one of the meanest. The very wish to poffefs what is not
our right, implies a degree of dishonesty ; but the man whose covetous difpofition 'can instigate him to the thought of committing murder, is be. low the beasts that perish, and ought to be ranked with the infernal fiends,
What must have been Cooke's thoughts on the Christmas-day, when he was entertaining his bro. ther-in-law with an appearance of friendship and hospitality, yet had determined to murder him! Neither the fanctity, nor the decent feftivity of the season, could compoie or cheer a mind bent on the perpetration of fo horrid a deed. The cale of this man will teach us the force of the commandment, “ Thou shalt not covet thy neigh« bour's house, thou fhalt not covet thy neigh« bour's wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid* fervant, nor his ox, nor his afs, nor any thing " that is thy neighbour's.”
With regard to Woodburne, though not an ebject of pity, he is less an object of detestation ihan Cooke. His large family, and distressed circumstances were temptations. He night lay, in the words of the poet,
My Poverty, but not my Wil consents.
Still, however, his crime was of an aggravated nature, for no temptation should induce a man to embrue his hands in the blood of a fellow-creacure. How dreadful to think of ruthing into eternity with the crime of murder on the head! May the preventing grace of God preserve us all from the perpetration of fo fhocking a deed! May we live in a continual sense of our duty, and seek to make our own lives comfortable by acts of compassion and humanity to our fellow-creatures!