Marie Manning, "The Bermondsey Horror"
Marie, also known as “Maria” according to some accounts, was born Marie La Roux in Switzerland, 1821. Her parents died sometime around the 1840s, and she emigrated to Britain to work as a servant. She began her work as a maid for Lady Anna Palk of the Haldon House in Devon, which was a gigantic country estate that was mostly demolished later on in the 1920s.
After some time working there, she then began working as a lady’s maid for a woman known as Lady Blantyre. Lady Blantyre was the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, and was extremely wealthy. Queen Victoria was known to make stops at the house, and Marie was able to enjoy a life of luxury and status that was enormously higher than a majority of other woman at the time.
It was on a trip that she was taking with the Lady Blantyre that she met Patrick O’Connor-the man who would be both her lover….and her victim. Between 1845-1846, she crossed the English Channel on a boat with her mistress where the 50-something Patrick O’ Connor worked as a sailor. He was fairly well off and it was his wealth and status that immediately attracted him to Marie. Around this time, Marie was also involved with a railway guard who was closer to her age named Fredrick Manning. Both men remained involved with Marie, and enjoyed telling people that they were off to see Marie at the Stafford House.
Now, although Marie was involved with both of these men, there were qualities to them that extremely frustrated her. Patrick was already well off, but he was an alcoholic with a temper and quite a bit older than her. Whereas Fred was closer to her age, but he had a job that didn’t make as much as Patrick’s did. However, Fred was due to come in to an inheritance from his mother, and based much of his proposal off this aspect. In the end, Marie agreed to Fred’s proposal, and the pair was married in St. James’s Church in Picadilly. Soon after the wedding, Patrick sent a letter to Marie declaring his love for her, and claiming that he had been about to propose to her. While it’s unsure if that was a true statement or not, it definitely wasn’t a good start for the newlyweds marriage.
The couple bought a home at Miniver Place, and it was at this point that Marie realized Fred had exaggerated his inheritance. At this point she continued her relationship with Patrick O’Connor, which was something that her husband apparently knew about. Patrick would even have dinner with the couple at their house multiple times,
Fred was either fired or just decided to leave his job as a guard for the railway company. He took his savings, and the couple moved to Fred’s hometown and opened an inn, known as the White Hart.
Now, the inn didn’t do so well, but for a reason that I would have never expected??
There’s a whole side story here that we get to dive into. It’s like a 2 for 1 sale type of day today.
Let’s go to New Year’s Day, 1849. The Great Western train made its journey from Plymouth to London, and while on that journey there was a robbery. A total of £4000 were stolen, and this was back when “£100” was enough to live on yearly. And they would have gotten away with it too! If it wasn’t for the fact that criminals are a greedy bunch and they tried to do the same trick with another train the next day.
This time there was a railway guard there who was slightly more adept at his job, and who ended up catching these thieves.
The thieves were two men, Henry Poole and Edward Nightingale. And for those wondering how they relate back to our very own Marie and Fred Manning, we’ll get to that right now.
See apparently, both Henry and Edward had recently stayed at the White Hart inn, and Edward Nightingale had used Fred Manning’s name as an alias. Both the Mannings were brought in for questioning, but eventually were cleared from any involvement.
Even though they didn’t have any involvement, word got out and their reputation was completely shot. Business crashed, due to people in the area not wanting to stay in a place where there was a possibility of being robbed, even if that was a rumor and not based on truth.
Because of this loss, the two of them ended up moving back to Fred’s hometown of Bermondsey. Fred tried to open a bar, but it wasn’t quite so successful.
I guess you could say that with the closing of the White Hart Inn came the beginning of the end for Marie Manning. She started working as a dressmaker, and taking in renters when they could.
One of these renters was a medical student, and his stay was extremely short lived. He had a couple of disturbing encounters with Fred Manning, where questions about the effects of chloroform and other drugs came up, and whether or not someone would be able to sign over money if they were drugged. These questions were enough to scare the medical student into leaving as soon as possible.
Marie was being only slightly less subtle. In late July, there was a large delivery of lime delivered to her house, and on August 8th Marie bought a shovel.
You guys can probably guess where this is going.
So, the night of August 8th, Marie invites Patrick over to her house for dinner. You’ve got to admit, the fact that it was a normal enough occurrence for her to invite her lover to dinner while her husband was home is such a ballsy move. Like, it happened often enough not to send up any red flags when she invited him to dinner later that night.
However, Patrick ruined her plans the night of August 8th by bringing a friend with him that night. So, Marie invited him back again for dinner on August 9th, the following evening.
That night, Patrick showed up by himself, and the plan was on. Well, it ended up not being too much of a plan. Basically, the plan was that when Patrick arrived, Marie greeted him and walked him into the kitchen. After they were there, she told him that he better wash his hands before dinner. And it was when he turned his back to her to face the sink that she shot him in the head.
Marie and Frank then pulled up the floor tile or flagstones in the kitchen to reveal the pre dug grave they had made for Patrick O’ Connor. But when they went to move him, they realized that the shot to the head hadn’t actually killed him. So, Fred took that new shovel that Marie had bought, and beat Patrick until he was dead, for real this time. According to some sources, he may have used a crow bar instead of a shovel, but whatever it was was enough to ensure that he was officially dead.
They dumped his body into the grave, and then covered him in the lime in hopes that it would help the body decompose faster.
The next day, on the 10th, Marie talked her way into where Patrick had been living, getting the landlady to let her into his rooms and picking through his belongings to find valuables and other things to sell.
When Patrick didn’t show up to work, his colleagues began to worry. Patrick was a very punctual person, and never missed a day of work. After two days of not showing up, two of his coworkers began to investigate. One of them was also his cousin, and he knew that he’d been seeing a girl named Marie. After talking to Patrick’s landlord, and hearing that a woman named Marie Manning had been coming by his place, the cousin and the other coworker went by the Mannings to see if they knew where Patrick had gone.
Marie admitted to having seen him on the 8th for dinner, but denied having dinner with him or seeing him at all on the 9th. The two men went away, but didn’t really believe what they’d heard, as they went straight to the police to file a missing person’s report.
And the Mannings were freaking out at this point. Marie demanded that Fred begin selling all their furniture so they would have money, and as soon as he left she packed everything valuable that she could carry and went to the Kings Cross railway station where she took a train to Edinburgh.
Fredrick, when he returned and realized that his wife was on the run, he decided his best option was to leave the country, and he fled to Jersey.
When the police realized that the Mannings had fled, they conducted a search on their house, and it was as they were searching the kitchen that they noticed that something was off with the flooring. They pried up the floor, and that was when they found Patrick O’ Connor’s body.
There was a manhunt now after them, newspapers, of course, took this situation and ran with it. Tons of newspapers at the time were covering the story, and that was actually part of the reason that Fred got caught. A friend of his from London was actually in Jersey at the same time, who had been keeping up with the papers, and he went to the police who were able to arrest Fred.
When he was arrested, he told the police “I never liked him (O’Connor) so I battered his head in with a ripping chisel (which is crowbar, in American).”
Meanwhile, Marie was arrested once she reached Edinburgh. The valuables that she had taken from Patrick’s place included some railway stock that he had bought, and when she tried to sell it to other brokers, it came back as marked stolen.
Another nail in her coffin, so to speak, was the fact that she took a cab to the train station. Actually no, not one train station, but two. She had the cab driver take her to one train station, where she dropped off two trunks, and then had the driver take her to Kings Cross where she caught her train to Edinburgh.
And of course the police found the trunks that she had dropped off. Dropping off luggage at a train station and just leaving it there was suspicious even back then. And when they opened it, they found that it was filled with bloody clothes from the night of the murder.
Both were taken to jail. Marie was the more “suffer in silence” type, at least at first. Fred, however, was definitely more of the talkative type. He was extremely excited to hear that his wife had been arrested, and claimed the innocence card, saying that she was the one who had done everything, and he had nothing to do with it.
But of course it was Maria that the press latched on to. She’d worked in fancy houses, she was foreign, and of course she was attractive, so that added to the morbid intrigue surrounding this whole situation. So massive was the intrigue, that black silk temporarily went out of fashion as it was a color and fabric that Marie was often seen wearing.
Both parties ended up blaming each other, and after the trial took place it was tradition to ask if the people on trial had anything to say. Fred declined saying anything, but Marie on the other hand definitely had something to get off her chest.
She went off at the judge, saying that there was “no justice and no rights for a foreign subject in this country.” She went on to say that if she was to kill any man, it would have been her husband, because of how miserable he had made her life.
Unsurprisingly, the judge didn’t sympathize with her. Instead, after a 45 minute deliberation, both Marie and Fred were charged with murder, and sentenced to death.
In an attempt to escape her impending doom, Marie wrote letters to her old employers, who had connections with the Queen. She begged them to ask her for a pardon, for leniency. However, the letters were returned to her, unopened.
Desperate to avoid the hangman’s noose, Marie tried to kill herself.
She waited until the middle of the night, when she thought her prison guards were asleep, and then began scratching at her throat at an attempt to cut a vein. One of the prison guards caught her though, and it took three of them to subdue her.
The execution date was set for Tuesday November 13, 1849. The couple met each other in the prison chapel, and apparently they parted on good terms. Fred supposedly told her that he didn’t want to have their last words be angry, and she supposedly kissed him before they were sent out. I say supposedly because so far I’ve only seen that account in one article, and I haven’t been able to verify it anywhere else.
They were to be hung at a place called Horsemonger Lange Gaol, which had a flat roof. More than 30,000 spectators gathered here to witness the first ever married couple to be executed for murder. Around 500 policemen were also supposedly there trying to keep some kind of order.
And who was there to witness this? None other than Charles Dickens, whose account was printed in The Times. I’ll quote it here for you guys.
I was a witness to the execution at Horsemonger Lane this morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to behold it and I had excellent opportunities of doing so at intervals throughout the night, and continuously from daybreak, until after the spectacle was over.
I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold.
When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings, whistling, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police, with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly – as it did – it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil.
And when Frederick Manning ascended the steps leading to the drop his limbs tottered under him and he appeared scarcely able to move. Upon his wife approaching the scaffold, he turned round, his face towards the people, while Calcraft proceeded to draw over his head the white nightcap and adjust the fatal rope.
The executioner then drew another nightcap over the female prisoner’s head and, all the necessary preparations being now completed, the scaffold was cleared of all its occupants except the two wretched beings doomed to die.
The mob fell hushed and silent as Calcraft swiftly drew the bolt, all eyes fixed on the two hooded and noosed figures silhouetted against the morning sky; the trap opened and the bodies dropped, swaying and twisting slowly with the momentum of their fall, and dying almost immediately. Dickens, with his literary flair for words, wrote how ‘the woman’s fine shape, elaborately corseted and artfully dressed, was quite unchanged in its trim appearance as it slowly swung from side to side’
Apparently, this was such an exciting event that one woman actually died of being crushed in the crowd.
In the worst kind of irony, it was also tradition at the time for those who were hanged to be buried in graves lined with lime, to stop the odor of decomposition.
So Marie was buried, along with her husband, in the same way that they had hoped to dispose of Patrick O’Connor.
And that, is the story of the Bermondsey Horror, and Marie Manning.