Capital Crimes : Seven Centuries of London Life and Murder Hardback
by Max Decharne
"Capital Crimes" tells the shifting story of crime and punishment in London through vivid re-creations of a series of murders that stretches from the killing of Roger Legett, a notorious 'questmonger', during the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, through to the hanging of Styllou Christofi in 1954.
Some of the murderers, such as the political assassin John Bellingham, are still remembered.
Others, including the eighteenth-century highwayman John Davis, are largely forgotten.
But all their lives and fates have much to tell us - about London's changing underworld, about the slow evolution of policing in the capital, and about the sometimes strange workings of the law.
Above all, they provide a fascinating sideways view of London over the centuries - from the crime-ridden alleyways of the Georgian capital to the supposedly respectable suburbs of Finchley, where the notorious 'baby-farmers' Amelia Sach and Annie Walters operated at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Illustrated throughout with contemporary engravings and photographs, this is an essential read for all devotees of London - and of crime.
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 416 pages, integrated black and white + colour plates
- Publisher: Cornerstone
- Publication Date: 20/09/2012
- Category: True crime
- ISBN: 9781847945907
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Review by drmaf
I have read at least a dozen books on the history of crime and punishment in London. Some were seriously academic, some were wildy populist. It seems that the memory of Jack the Ripper and Tyburn exerts a lasting fascination for writers and readers alike. In such a crowded genre, it would be easy to end up repeating what has been covered so many times before. However, Decharne has done a great job of searching out obscure stories, some of which are likely never to have been published before. He avoids the temptation to include the obvious, there is no mention of the Ripper, or Crippen, or Christie or any of those staples. Beginning in the 14th century and continuing up until the 1950s, he presents a variety of cases, all of which have only one thing in common, they were capital crimes and someone ended up taking the short final walk to the stake, the block or the gallows at Smithfield, Tower Hill, Tyburn or Newgate. There are revolutionaries, heretics, highwaymen, cold-blooded killers and those who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He captures the flavour of the times by making heavy use of contemporary broadsheet and newspaper accounts, and also is at pains to locate the scenes of the crimes in the context of London's modern geography. This is an excellent read, well thought-out, extremely well-researched and exceptionally well-written. For those true crime buffs who might be jaded by reading the same old stories over and over again, or anyone just interested in yet another thread in London's enormous history, I thoroughly recommend this book