The Adams Murder, 1837

The following newspaper reports document the murder of Thomas Adams in Burcott in December 1837. His son William was charged with the murder and with stealing from the deceased. I have capitalised the first instance of each new person in the reports, which appear here in chronological order. At the conclusion of the newspaper reports is additional information which sheds further light on the case and William’s eventual fate – don’t miss those revelations!

Gravestone of Thomas Adams in Wing Buckinghamshire
Erected to the memory of THOMAS ADAMS son of Robert Adams, who departed this life December 28th 1837 aged 60 years
Entry from The Times, Tuesday January 2 1838

A report has reached us that a most shocking murder has been discovered at Burcott, near Wing, in Buckinghamshire. As one of the labourers of Mr ADAMS, a respectable and wealthy farmer of that place, was about to commence his daily labour, he discovered in a barn on the premises the mangled corpse of his master. The body of the deceased gentleman was found covered with straw, with the occipital bone of the skull dreadfully fractured, and the brains scattered about the floor of the barn. From some shots having been found in the skull, it is obvious how the deceased’s death was effected. Suspicions are entertained as to the guilty party, and the sergeant of the Aylesbury new police is busily employed in investigating the matter. – Evening paper

Entry from The Times, Thursday January 4 1838

The neighbourhood of Wing, near Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire, has been thown into a state of great excitement within the last few days by a dreadful murder committed upon a wealthy farmer named Adams, under such circumstances as tend to fix the guilt upon his own son, a lad 18 years of age. It would appear that the unfortunate deceased had been living on very bad terms with his youngest son, the accused party, for a long time, and he had been frequently heard to declare that his son would no more mind shooting him than he would a dog. On Thursday, the day of the murder, the deceased and his son had made an arrangement to go to a cow-shed upon the farm for the purpose of dressing some sheep that were affected with the rot. They were proved to have been in the shed together, and about the same time the report of a gun was heard to proceed from it. In about a quarter of an hour the son was seen to come away from the shed alone, and riding upon his father’s pony. The deceased not making his appearance, alarm was excited, and a search was made for him, and upon going into the shed the body of the deceased was discovered, covered over with hay. The head had been literally blown to atoms. The body was removed to the Cock Inn, at Wing, and on Monday a jury assembled before Mr COWLEY, the coroner, when the proceedings were adjourned until Tuesday, and from what previously transpired it was deemed necessary that the son of the deceased should be taken into custody.
An inquiry then took place into all the circumstances of the case, and the following facts were elicited: –

The medical men who examined the deceased were unanimously of opinion that he had been shot from behind, and from a very short distance. In the head was found a pellet exactly the size of the mould used by the prisoner for making his pellets. It also appeared that on the day of the murder the prisoner went to one of his father’s labourers who had been in the habit of going to the shed after they had dressed the sheep, and told him that he must not go there on that day. The man replied that his father had told him to go and see whether the sheep were all right. The prisoner replied, “Never mind; I tell you you must not go there to-day.” After the murder was discovered, the prisoner went to the same man and said, “If I cannot get some one to swear that they saw me part from my father, I am done.” The man replied, “My God, you don’t say so” to which the prisoner replied emphatically “I do.” When the non-appearance of the deceased caused alarm to his family, the prisoner accompanied the persons who went in search of him, and after looking over several portions of the premises, they went into the cow-shed, and the prisoner immediately observed that someone had been moving the hay since he was there. This induced the parties to look under the hay, as the body was completely covered with it, and hidden from view. When the prisoner saw the body of this father he was dreadfully excited and exclaimed “Oh, my poor father!” In the first instance no suspicion fell upon the prisoner, and he was suffered to be at large as usual; but afterwards, when steps were taken with a view to his apprehension, he went away from his father’s house. The officers had, however, made arrangements to prevent him from getting away, and took him into custody on Saturday.

The jury were occupied in the investigation of the melancholy affair till Tuesday evening, at 9 o’clock, when they returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against the prisoner, William ADAMS.”

During the whole time the inquiry lasted, the prisoner was in the house, under the care of one of the Aylesbury police, and did not seem to be at all affected by the awful position in which he was placed. When the result was announced to him he declared his innocence.

The coroner having issued his warrant for the commitment of the prisoner, he was yesterday morning lodged in Aylesbury gaol, to await his trial at the forthcoming assizes.

Entry from The Times, Wednesday January 10 1838

The following additional particulars relating to the melancholy occurrence have been obtained by one of our correspondents. Since the unfortunate young man has been in the gaol at Aylesbury he has evinced the utmost calmness, and his demeanour has been the same as when he was first apprehended by PERKINS, the officer. Indeed he does not seem to be at all affected by the situation in which he is placed, and continues to declare that he is innocent of the crime alleged against him. It appears that on the night of the murder the prisoner went home, after he was observed by the man to leave the shed where the body was found, and whence previously the report of a gun had been heard to issue, dressed himself, and went to a ball at Wing, and was found there by the persons who were sent to inform him that his father had not come home, and that fears were entertained for his safety. He immediately left the ball and proceeded to make a search, accompanied by two of his brothers, and he remained with them until the discovery of the body of the deceased, under the circumstances which have been detailed. At this period not the slightest suspicion was entertained that he had been in any manner accessory to the death of his father, and he continued to be about the farm as usual, and gave the necessary directions consequent upon the death of his father, and despatched a messenger to Buckingham to request the attendance of Mr Cowley, the coroner. At length, however, circumstances were brought to light which induced the officer who had the case in hand to take him into custody. It has been ascertained, that on the day of the murder, when the deceased and his son left the farm for the purpose of going to dress the sheep in the shed, they neither of them had a gun; but about an hour afterwards the prisoner returned to the house and fetched his gun, saying that he wanted it for the purpose of shooting some sparrows.

From information obtained from persons residing in the neighbourhood of Wing, who were well acquainted with the deceased and his family, it appears that he was of a very violent temper, and that he was continually quarrelling, not only with the prisoner, but also with all his other children of whom there were ten, nine boys and a girl.

It is said that the prisoner has at various times exhibited symptoms of insanity, but has never been under any restraint. When he was first brought to Aylesbury gaol he was searched, as is customary, and upon him was found a piece of small, but very strong cord. This was taken away from him, but when he expressed a wish to have it restored to him, he was refused. He appeared very much dissatisfied, and there is no doubt but that he contemplated destroying himself. A strict watch is in consequence kept upon him in the gaol. The prisoner is only just turned 18 years of age. He is a lad of good appearance, and has rather an intelligent cast of countenance. The deceased possessed a great deal of property in the neighbourhood of Leighton Buzzard and in other parts of Buckinghamshire, and it is said that the prisoner had recently had 2,000l bequeathed to him by one of his relations, and to which he would have been entitled on coming of age. The occurrence still excites the deepest interest, and persons from all parts of the county have been to see the shed where the murder was committed.

Entry from The Times, Saturday 10 Mar 1838

The prisoner William Adams is to be tried to-morrow for the murder of his father. It is understood that last night he made some extraordinary disclosure to a fellow prisoner in the gaol, which is said to be highly unfavourable to him. Nothing is, however, known with certainty on the point.

Entry from The Times, Monday March 12 1838

Before Mr Baron PARKE

At the early hour of 7 o’clock in the morning this dull town exhibited unwonted signs of life and bustle, caused by the expectation of the disclosures which were looked for on this trial, and the great throng of people from all quarters of the county, in the hope of at least hearing at second-hand the transactions which passed in a court too small to admit one-hundreth part of them.

At 9 o’clock Mr. Baron Parke took his seat, and William Adams was placed at the bar. Though all eyes were turned towards him, he showed no sign of trepidation whatever, but during the protracted inquiry which ensued maintained a composure, not to say indifference, most astonishing when the nature of the inquiry is considered. He is a mild-looking youth, not quite 18 years of age, and was neatly dressed in a suit of mourning.

The indictment charged him with having, on the 28th of December last, caused the death of his father, Thomas Adams, by firing a loaded gun at his head.

Mr Serjeant STORKS and Mr BYLES conducted the prosecution, Mr KELLY and Mr MALTBY the defence.

The learned Sergeant, in opening the case, stated that the deceased was a person of some property, who for nearly 50 years had lived in a hamlet of Wing, called Burcott, near this town. He had brought up a large family, of whom the prisoner was the third son. Mr Adam’s farm buildings were nearly 1,000 yeards from his dwelling-house, and amongst them was a cowhouse with two bays or compartments. From the cowhouse to a field in which is a fish-pond, and which field at time of the commission of the murder was planted with turnips, is 150 yards, and a barn, called the New Barn, is 400 yards from the cowhouse. In the afternoon of the 28th of December the deceased left home on horseback for the purpose of going to the cowhouse, where some sheep had been put on the previous day, which required dressing for some injuries they had received. The prisoner left home at the same time, taking with him a gun, which he was in the habit of using. Soon after 2 o’clock the prisoner went alone into a place called the moor, where he shot first at some larks, and afterwards at a snipe. He then left the moor, and went in a direction for the turnip field, where he fired at another snipe, after which he reloaded his gun. He left the turnips, and went in the direction of the cowhouse. During the time he was in the turnips his father had crossed the moor on horseback, also in the direction of the cowhouse, and was seen about 3 o’clock going through a gap in the turnip field. In about 20 minutes some men who were at work on the moor heard a fourth discharge of a gun proceeding in a direction as from the cowhouse, and in a quarter of an hour from the time of that report the prisoner recrossed the moor at a quick pace on the horse on which his unfortunate father had but a few minutes before sat alive and in health. The prisoner put up his horse at home. Hour after hour wore away, and still the father did not appear in his accustomed seat; tea, supper, bed-time arrived, and the family, seriously alarmed, caused minute search to be made. The prisoner was questioned; he said his father had told him to ride home his horse, as he should go and watch the new barn to see if one BONE stole his corn. The prisoner and others joined in the search, and at length the dead body of the object of their solicitude was found in the cowhouse, carefully covered with hay, his legs crossed, and his head blown nearly off, his features being scarcely discernible. Several circumstances occurred which raised a suspicion against the prisoner, and it appeared that he had told one WORSTER as he was riding home on the dead man’s horse that he (Worster) “need not go to the cowhouse to feed or dress the sheep there, for he and his father had already done so”. On the day following he also told the same man that ïf he could not get a witness to swear he saw him part from his father at Foxhill, he was done.” In the head, mixed with the brains of the deceased, was found a pellet (wadding), which fitted precisely to the bore of the punch by which the prisoner was in the habit of cutting his. The police were on the look-out for him on the day after the murder, and he saw them coming upon which he ran away as fast as he could, but was pursued and overtaken. Having premised this much for the purpose of making the cast intelligible, we proceed now to the evidence in this remarkable and horrible case.

William COLLIER stated that he was working for the deceased on the moor about 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the 28th of December, when the prisoner came upon it, and after firing two shots he left and went in the direction of a field of turnips 300 yards off; a hill prevented the witness from seeing whether he actually went into that field. In a few minutes the witness heard another report from a gun in the direction of that field, and in half an hour afterwards a fourth. Almost as soon as the prisoner had left the moor the witness saw the deceased cross it on horseback in the same direction his son had taken; and 20 minutes after the last shot was heard, he saw the prisoner coming up the hill from the turnip field, riding on the same horse which his father had recently ridden. He was riding at a very brisk trot towards his own home.

John HOPE, who was at work with the last witness on the moor, corroborated this evidence, adding that the last shot they heard was “not so loud or distinct as the third report had been.” Neither of the witnesses saw any other person with a gun during the day except the prisoner.

John SHARPE, a house-servant of the deceased, stated that his master and the prisoner left home on the 28th of December together about half-past 1 o’clock, the former on horseback, the latter with his gun on foot. At about 4 o’clock the prisoner returned on the horse, which the witness put into the stable, the prisoner going into the house.

On cross-examination, the witness admitted that the prisoner had before ridden his father’s horse home when he had been shooting. The horse would not “stand fire.” He had never seen for eight years but that the prisoner and his father lived on the most amicable terms.

George BONE – Was horsekeeper to the deceased, and was on the day of the murder carting dung in “Broad-stitching”, a field very near to the turnip-field. Saw the prisoner shoot off once in the latter field and afterwards reload his gun. In the evening he asked the prisoner’s leave to go to Leighton, which the latter refused, giving as a reason that “he was himself going to psalm-singing feast there, and his father would be angry if they both went out.” The prisoner went to the psalm-singing, and afterwards, with his brother, the witness and others, went to search for the missing man. When they came to a gate near the new barn the prisoner pointed to it and said “That’s the place we parted at. He suspected you (the witness) of stealing his corn for the horses, and said he should go and watch at the barn.” They afterwards went to Leighton and Wing, but could gain no information. The witness had frequently before seen poaching people with guns about the neighbourhood of the cowhouse.

William JUDGE, under gamekeeper to Lord CHESTERFIELD, swore that he had assisted the prisoner in the search on the night of the murder. Whilst they were going along the prisoner told him where he had parted from his father, and added they had had no falling out to signify since the 1st of September. The witness remarked that the deceased had said his son had once loaded his (deceased’s) gun with clay for the purpose of killing him; but the prisoner strenuously denied it. When they got to the cowhouse, the witness’s father said, they would search that, to which the prisoner replied “It was of no use but he’d go wherever he wished.” On going through the doorway of the cowhouse, the prisoner remarked “Why, the hay has been removed since I was here before.” The father of the witness went in and removed three trusses of hay, and underneath lay the cold and stiff body of the murdered object of their search. The witness exclaimed “Oh God! here he is, poor soul.” The prisoner turned exceedingly pale, and holding on a rail for support from fainting, replied “Oh, my poor father! what shall I do?” A cart was procured, and the corpse put in and carried to his late home. On the following day the prisoner told the witness that his father had, on the previous day, taken two 5l. notes and several sovereigns. He was frequently in the habit of carrying large sums of money about him. He showed no reluctance to go into the cowhouse, and the witness added, that the prisoner had borne an excellent character for humanity.

Richard JUDGE, father of the last witness, and gamekeeper to the Earl of Chesterfield, corroborated his son in the principal report of his evidence. On the day after the finding of the body the witness again searched the cowhouse, and about a foot and a half outside the door he saw a considerable quantity of blood, which was covered over with loose hay. There was a hook by the side of the cowhouse door, and just under that were the “tramplings” of a horse’s feet, which had recently been made. In the course of the morning the witness put his ramrod down the prisoner’s gun, and found that it was not loaded.

Thomas WORSTER, farming servant to the deceased, proved that on the day before the murder he by his direction put three sheep into the cowhouse in question, for the purpose of being dressed on the following day. On the afternooon of the 28th, the day of the murder, the witness saw the prisoner and his father on foot within 40 yards of the cowhouse. In half or three-quarters of an hour afterwards the prisoner went along to him, as he was at work by the fish-pond in the turnip field, and said they had dressed and fed the sheep, and he need not go to them; adding “and we’ve put them in the rickyard and done up the gaps.” Nearly at midnight the prisoner went to his house, and asked if he had seen his father, to which the witness replied “No, he had not sen him since they were all in the turnips together.” On the following day the prisoner went to him, and after saying it was a bad accident, added “If I can’t get some one to say he saw me and my father part at the top of Fox-hill, I’m done.” The witness exclaimed “The Lord have mercy on me! – you don’t say so.” The prisoner replied “I must go, the police are after me.” On cross-examination the witness said he saw the prisoner fire off into the turnip-field, and heard no other gun afterwards. He was quite sure of that.

Mr Kelly here put in evidence the deposition of the witness before the coroner, in which he had not told anything about the prisoner having said “If I don’t get some one &c.”

The witness stated, in explanation, that he stated all he then remembered, but that he had not then thought of that circumstance.

Robert Perkins – Is a sergeant of police in Aylesbury. After the surgeon had examined the dead body, the witness saw the prisoner and asked him if he knew anything of this sad occurrence. The prisoner answered “No; he had parted with his father at the cowhouse, and the latter desired him to ride his horse home.” An hour or two afterwards the prisoner was standing at his own door, and upon the witness going up to him, he observed, of his own accord, “I have a witness, Mr Perkins.” Witness then asked if he was accused, the prisoner said “No, but I thought you suspected me.” They then went towards Wing. On their road the witness said to him, “There are some circumstances that look very black against you. You was the last person with your father, and was seen to come home on his horse; you was about the cowhouse when the gun was fired, and you had powder and shot and a gun.” Prisoner said that was all true, but he was innocent. The same evening the witness searched the prisoner, and found on him a handkerchief which had been very recently washed in a rough manner and not ironed. It appeared to still have some stains of blood on it. There was also a wadding-punch and a pellet, and some percussion caps in his pocket. The prisoner said he had fired his gun twice the day before, and had not reloaded it after the second shot. He said “he and his father had gone into the cowhouse, he going in a little the first” and on the witness observing “Then you’d time to load your gun,” he answered “No, I only went in a minute or two first” He supposed his father had 60l. about him. On the Sunday following witness saw the head of the deceased opened and a gun-wadding taken out of the brain: upon comparison this was found exactly to correspond in size with the wadding-punch found on the prisoner.

Walter RAWLEIGH – is a surgeon at Leighton, and examined the body of the deceased. The bones of the head were blown to pieces. There was a dreadful wound at the back of the neck, and the contents of the gun had passed through the head, and out at the face, with the exception of a few shot which had lodged in the nostrils. Some portions of the head and coat-collar of the deceased were driven into the brain. From the nature of the injury, the witness conceived it to be impossible that a gun had been fired at the face of the deceased, and he thought there was but one discharge of a gun.

Richard WINDMILL proved nothing material, but that he visited the family of the deceased, and always thought they lived in great harmony.

Mary JORDAN – lives at Wing. Last spring she was in the streets of that town, and the prisoner was standing by, when they saw his father at some distance. The prisoner said to her “Yonder here he comes, d–n him! I wish somebody would blow his brains out.”

On cross-examination she said her husband was in gaol for felony, and she thought the prisoner might have had something to do with it; but denied having said “the prisoner had done her a kindness, and she’d do him one some day.”

James FUELL – I am a prisoner in Aylesbury gaol, on a charge of felony. Prisoner had talked many times with me about the murder. He told me he once robbed his father of 10l. and had been threatened to be sent to gaol. He told me that the day before the murder three sheep were sent to the cowhouse to be dressed, and he and his father went up to look at them on the Thursday in Christmas week, and they went in and dressed them. He said he had a gun, and when his father was gone for some turnips for the sheep he put a cap on his gun and snapped it and loaded it, and when his father returned with the turnips he shot him through the back of the neck, in the cowhouse. He took him up and laid him on his back, at the far end of the cowhouse, and when he had turned out the sheep he went back, and saw his father move his arm, on which he loaded his gun again, and shot him in the face. He then rifled his pockets, and took his purse and pocket-book, and then covered him with hay, and afterwards got on the pony and rode home, and went to the public-house, where he danced for a while. He said there was an outcry about the old man, and they went and looked for him, and the keeper trod on his legs and he (the prisoner) almost fainted when they found him. On the following morning he hid the pocket-book in a hedge, and the purse under some dahlia-roots; and afterwards he took the pocket-book, and hid it in a hole above the door of the privy.

In cross-examination, he said he could speak to having been four times in gaol, but as for “counting all the times,” that he could not do. He was once in hanging a dog, and then skinning him. He mentioned this matter to the turnkey and the gaoler. He said to the latter, “If it would do him any good about his job, he could tell something about William Adams,” for “he did not think it right to cloak his mind with it.”

By Mr Kelly – What good did you expect! – To lighten my mind for one thing.

What other good? – That’s the chief, to make a clear conscience.

What other good? – I thought it would lighten my own case a good deal.

What other good? – A good many people clear themselves from their own cases by telling against others, and that was part of the good I expected.

Perkins, the policeman, was recalled, and proved that there was a hole above the prisoner’s privy door, like that which the last witness stated the prisoner told him he had put the pocket-book in.

Mr Rawleigh, the surgeon, was recalled, and stated, that he thought it barely possible that there might be a convulsive, but not a voluntary motion of the arm immediately after the deceased had been shot.

That was the case for the prosecution.

Mr Kelly, at 6 o’clock, rose to address the jury for the prisoner, and in a speech of nearly four hours’ length contended that the facts presented at most only a case of suspicion, which he would show attached equally to some other person not now on his trial. The whole case resolved itself into this – that a gun was fired off in the neighbourhood of the cowhouse at a time when the prisoner was so near that his might by possibility have been the hand that fired it, and that the deceased some hours afterwards was found murdered by a gun shot. Now he would prove, that between 5 and 6 o’clock in the evening of the same day, at a time when the prsionser had been home more than an hour, a gun was heard near, or at the cowhouse; precisely the same suspicion therefore attached to the person who fired that gun which attached to the prisoner. Whether it was a poacher, or a robber, he was not bound to show; it was sufficient for him to prove that it was not the prisoner.

It is utterly impossible in this long trial to follow the learned advocate in his energetic, eloquent, and argumentative address, which did not terminate until nearly 10 o’clock.

On its conclusion, the learned Baron asked the jury if they wished to adjourn till the morning, but they declined to do so, and the following evidence was then given.

John COOKE, a farmer, deposed to his having heard a gun fired in the direction of the cowhouse, between 5 and 6 on the evening of the murder, at a time when it was too dark for poachers to be exercising their calling.

Two labourers on the Birmingham railroad, who were returning from their work, corroborated this evidence. It was quite dark.

Mr MORTIMER, the landlord of a public-house in Wing, proved that the prisoner was at his house between 4 and 5 on the afternoon of the murder, and they had some psalm music. It was light enough for the musicians to play from the notes without candles.

William CIELEY proved that he stood a few days ago by the fish pond in the turnip-field so often mentioned, whilst another man fired off a gun in the cowhouse, and that he heard it distinctly. He could have heard it at a far greater distance. (This evidence was given in order to show that, as the witness Worster did not hear any gun in that direction when he was working by the fish-pond, as he stated, the prisoner could not have fired off his gun after he had left the turnips).

John WYATT saw a pool of blood three feet outside the cowhouse door, and none on the threshold.

James ASHPOLE proved that two years ago he was standing with the witness Mary Jordan, in Wing-town, when the prisoner came in sight, and he said “There comes Mr Adams” to which she replied “He did my husband a kindness once and I’ll do him one if it’s in my power.”

Mr Serjeant Storks precisely at midnight rose to reply.

Mr Baron Parke summed up the evidence in an address which terminated at half-past 3 o’clock in the morning.

The jury, after remaining in deliberation, returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

Entry from the Brighton Patriot, 13 March 1838

(an alternative report to the entry from The Times above)

(before Mr Baron Parke)

THE CASE OF ALLEGED PARRICIDE – William Frances Adams was again put to the bar, charged with the wilful murder of Thomas Adams his father, in the hamlet of Wing, on the 28th of December last.

Edgar OLLEY: I am a surgeon, residing at Leighton Buzzard; on the morning after the murder I was sent for to Burcott, to examine the body of the deceased; when I arrived the body was being removed from a waggon into the house; I removed the hat from the head of the deceased, and found the bones of the skull and right side of the face shattered to pieces; I examined the hat; there was a large hole in the collar of the coat; at three o’clock in the afternoon I called in two other surgeons to assist me in the further examination of the body; the wound was on the upper and back part of the neck; the shot had passed through the spinal marrow, dividing the bones which support the skull, and passed out at the right temple; in the base of the brain there was a quantity of felt from the hat, and a portion of the coat collar, together with several leaden shot; in the course of the examination of the brain, one of the surgeons, in my presence, discovered the gun-pellet now produced; the muzzle of the gun must have been placed quite close to the deceased to have inflicted such a wound, and it must have caused instant death.
Cross-examined by Mr Kelly: There were not two wounds; it was clearly done by one shot of the gun.

Hannah Jordan: I live at Wing; I was working last spring on the farm of the deceased; recollect hearing the prisoner say whilst pointing to the deceased, “Here he comes; damn his eyes, I wish somebody would blow his b–y brains out.”
Cross-examined by Mr Kelly: My husband was sent to gaol two years ago for stealing potatoes belonging to the Adamses; I never said I would do the prisoner as good a kindness as he did my husband.

James Fuel: I am now a prisoner in Aylesbury gaol, awaiting my trial; since I have been in gaol have had frequent conversations with the prisoner; one day last week he said he would tell me the truth all about his father’s death; he said as follows, as nigh as I can recollect:- “I once robbed my father of 10l., and he said he would send me to gaol; on Thursday morning in Christmas week father and I put some sheep in our Foxhill cow-house to dress them for the foot-rot, and in the afternoon we both went there again together, and I had my gun with me; when we dressed the sheep, father went out to pull some turnips to feed them with, and I put a cap on my gun and tried it, and then loaded it; when father returned to the cow-house I shot him in the back of the neck, and he fell down; I picked him up and carried him to the inside of the cow-house and laid him on his back, and then turned the sheep out; when I got back in the cow-house again I saw father move his arm, so I went out of the door, loaded my gun again, returned to the cow-house, and shot him in the face as he laid on his back. I then rifled his pockets of his purse of eleven sovereigns and his pocket-book, and covered him over with the hay. I then took the pony and rode home, and afterwards went to the public-house, drinking and dancing till the outcry was raised, when I went with some people to search for my father; when they got to the cow-house and found him, I leant over the rails and seemed to faint; when I was going back home I took the pocket book out of my pocket and put it in the hedge, but the next morning I fetched it back and hid it in the privy, and then kicked a hole in the garden amongst the dahlias and put the purse in:” this is true as Adams told it to me.
Cross-examined by Mr Kelly: I have told the gaoler that if I could do myself any good I would not “cloak” what I knew about Adams, for a good many get clear by telling about others, and that was part of the good I expected to be done me. About four years ago I was imprisoned at Aylesbury. I have been imprisoned more than four times. I am to be tried this assize for fowl stealing.
(The ruffianly appearance of this last witness created such disgust and suspicion through the court, that it was with difficulty silence was obtained.)

Samuel Perkins, police-sergeant, re-sworn: I went yesterday to Burcott, and seached the privy, but found no purse or pocket-book; I examined it thoroughly, and very carefully.

Mr Kelly, with considerable eloquence and judgment, opened the case for the defence, during which the learned gentleman was several times interrupted by the noise arising from the excessively crowded court. Mr Kelly’s address to the jury occupied upwards of two hours, and at ten o’clock he proceeded to call the witnesses for the defence.

William Cook: I am a farmer of the parish of Wing; on the evening of the murder I was returning from a cattle-market; when I was within a mile of Adams’s cowhouse I heard two reports of a gun from that direction; it was very dark and I think it was past five o’clock; I was less than a mile from the cowhouse.

William THORN: I live at Wing; I left my work at the railway, on the evening of the murder, about five o’clock, and in my way home I had to pass within a little distance of the Foxhill cowhouse, and when I got to the nearest point to the cowhouse I heard the report of a gun; it must have been nearly six o’clock; I was between the fish-pond, and the cowhouse; gun reports are often heard just by here; there are a good many poachers in this neighbourhood.

Elizabeth NEWINS, of Wing: I saw the prisoner the afternoon of the murder at five minutes after four in Wing-town; it was then quite light; he was talking with young JUDGE (the game-keeper’s son).

Robert Ceely: I am a surgeon at Aylesbury; was at Adams’s fish-pond last week when Mr Judge tried the experiment of firing a gun off at the Foxhill cowhouse to see if it could be heard at the pond; I was on the spot where WOOSTER was working on the afternoon of the murder.

John BAKER: I know Foxhill cowhouse well; on the day of the murder I saw Mr Adams’s mare standing by the cowhouse, it was then about half-past three; I saw nobody near.

William Wyatt: I am a farmer at Burcott; knew the deceased well; I went to the cowhouse with Mr PAGE the morning after the murder; I saw a pool of blood, about a pint, in the rick-year, about three feet from the cowhouse; I went across to the cowhouse, and looked at the doorsill, but found no blood or anything else upon it; the body could not have been dragged across it without leaving some marks; we had a blood hound to see if we could track anybody; the prisoner was with us but did not betray any sign of emotion; I have known the prisoner from his childhood, and have always found him a quiet inoffensive person; there are a great many poachers and bad characters around our neighbourhood; I do not think it possible that the prisoner could have lifted his father after he was dead, for he is not a very strong lad; if he had, his clothes would have been bloody.

James Ashpole deposed that a short time ago, Hannah Jirdan [sic] (one of the witnesses for the prosecution) had said she would do the prisoner a kindness as he had done her by prosecuting her husband for stealing potatoes.

Several witnesses were here called who knew the witness Fuell (the prisoner who had given evidence on the part of the prosecution) and they severally proved him to be a person of most disreputable character, and they would not believe him on his oath or trust him in any way.

This closed the case for the defence; and Mr Sergeant Storks replied at considerable length.

The learned Judge summed up the evidence with much impartiality and talent, and directed the jury to weigh the evidence on both sides before they returned their verdict.

The jury then consulted together, but, being unable to come to a unanimous determination, were locked up for nearly an hour, when they came into the court, and delivered their verdict of Not Guilty, and the young man Adams was accordingly acquitted.

His uncle, in an ecstacy of delight, sprang toward, seized him by the hand, and took him out of the court, when there was a general cheer given. He was generally supposed to be innocent, and apparently all present were pleased at his acquittal. The trial lasted upwards of eighteen hours, and excited the greatest interest. Several females fainted during the trial.

Entry from The Times, May 1 1838

Before Mr Justice WILLIAMS

Mr PETERSDORFF applied to the Court for a habeas corpus to bring up William Francis ADAMS from the gaol of Aylesbuy, in order to his being admitted to bail in this court. It appeared that the defendent had been tried at the late assizes for having caused the death of his father, and that at that trial the principal witness against him was a man named James Fuell, who was a prisoner in the Aylesbury gaol at the same time. After Fuell had given his testimony, several witnesses were called on the part of the prisoner to prove that Fuell was unworthy of credit upon his oath, and the prisoner was acquitted of the charge and released from custody. Soon after, however, he was again arrested upon a charge of having stolen a pocket-book, and other articles, the property of his late father, and the only witness in support of the charge was Fuell.
Mr Justice Williams granted the writ of habeas corpus, and also a certiorari to remove the deposition of Fuell.

Entry from The Times, July 23 1838

Saturday July 21
CROWN COURT – Before Mr Justice PARK

William Adams, aged 18, was placed at the bar charged with stealing a pocket-book, four 5l. bank notes, and other articles, the property of Thomas Adams; other counts laid the property in the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Lincoln, and the executor of Thomas Adams.

Mr Byles and Mr ROBERTS prosecuted the prisoner, whom Mr Kelly, Mr ANDREWS and Mr Maltby defended.

From the evidence of three or four persons it appeared that Thomas Adams, the person mentioned in the indictment, was the father of the prisoner, and when living, had been a farmer at Burcott, in the parish of Wing, in this county, and that on Thursday, the 28th of December last, he was murdered by some hitherto undiscovered person. He had received on that day some money of a farmer to whom he had sold bullocks, and, having put the money into his pocket-book, he mounted his horse and rode to his homestead, which was half a mile from his residence. The prisoner was seen at half-past 2 in the afternoon walking in a direction for the homestead, in which stands the cow-house; and in a few minutes Mr Adams, the father, followed on horseback in the same direction. In half an hour afterwards, the prisoner returned on his father’s horse and rode home at “a full trot.” The family of old Mr Adams waited tea and supper for him, but he came not, and at half-past 11 at night he was found lying under some hay in the cowhouse murdered. He had been shot from behind. No property was found on his person. In order to connect the prisoner with the robbery in question, the principal witnesss was one James Fuell. This man swore, that being a companion of the prisoner in Aylesbury gaol in February last, he had several conversations with him respecting the death of this father. The prisoner said he went to the cowhouse and found him lying dead on his back, and that he took his pocket-book, containing bank notes and papers, out of his pocket. He then rode home and put the property in a box hedge, and on the following morning he removed it and placed it in a hole in the roof of the privy. His father’s purse, containing sovereigns, he buried under some dahlia roots in the garden. The witness told the prisoner he was going to send to his brother for some money for his defence, when the prisoner replied “I’ll tell you where there is some,and I’ll write to your brother all about it.” He then sat down and wrote two notes to the brother of the witness, which were given to that person when he came on a vist to the prison.

On his cross-examination, the witness said he had been in prison five times, and at the last assizes was transported for seven years for felony; but he had received Her Majesty’s pardon in order to enable him to become a witness on this trial. In answer to a question whether he had not since the assizes said “he had been telling lies of young Adams in order to escape free himself” he denied that he ever had. He had never said to one DARBY “Would not you have done the same if you had been in the same situation, to clear yourself?” Nor had he said to Darby “that as his brother had burnt the letter, he told a lie, and said Adams wrote them, and they could not prove the contrary.” He had never said to one PALMER that “MEADE the transport wrote the letters, and as his brother had shown them to his uncle, and he was forced to clap the blame on somebody’s shoulders, he clapped it on young Adams’s.” The witness was asked respecting a great number of conversations of this kind, but he denied them one and all.

Robert FUELL, brother to the last witness, proved receiving two notes, as that person had stated. He did not know by whom they were written. His uncle and others read them. One was as follows:- “Go to Wing and inquire for Adams’s farm at Burcott, and then look round where the privy is, on the right hand side of the privy door, betwixt it and the tiling and roof, in the day time. You’ll find a pocket-book; take the money out of it, and let the papers remain in it, and drop in near the Cock Inn at Wing.” The other note ran thus :- “The man you have got in hold for the murder of Mr Adams did not do it; let them as done the deed find it out.”

At this time the prisoner was in Aylesbury gaol on the charge of being his father’s murderer; he was tried at the last assizes and acquitted.

The witness was directed to put this latter note into the pocket-book before he dropped it in the street at Wing. He told two persons named SHACKLE, and one ARMSTRONG, what the notes were about; and he and those persons at the latter end of February were on the tramp, and arrived late at night at the Red Lion at Tring. They went early to bed, and the landlord, Mr PRICE, overheard a conversation between them relative to their going to Wing to get “old Adams’s pocket-book.” Mr Price lost no time in communicating this news to a Mr JACKSON, and on the following day these two persons went over to Wing and saw a Mr FOUNTAINE, one of Adams’s executors, to whom they related the conversation. It happened that Mr Fountaine had married a daughter of Adams, and he was consequently brother-in-law to the prisoner. He went immediately to the privy alone, and there, in the place where Fuell had stated the prisoner’s note said it would be, he found the pocket-book of the murdered man, containing 4 5l. notes and other articles. Being a relation of the prisoner he locked up this important parcel, and did not produce it to anyone, or even himself look in the pocket-book until after the trial and acquittal of the prisoner of the murder. He then gave it up to the magistrates, and stated all he knew about it. Several persons were called today, who distinctly proved this pocket-book and its contents to belong to the deceased.

A long inquiry was entered into for the purpose of showing that the witness, James Fuell, was in London on the day of the murder, and that consequently he was not guilty of that offence.

This was the substance of the evidence for the Crown in this remarkable case.

Mr Andrews addressed the jury in a lengthened speech of great power and eloquence, and argued strongly on the gross improbability of the story which Fuell had told in order to procure a pardon for his crimes, and a remission of his punishment.

The persons, named Darby and Palmer, were called for the purpose of proving that the witness, Fuell, had made to them the statements respecting the notes having been written by Meade, and the other conversations which Fuell had denied having had with them; all of which they swore did take place. These two worthies, like James Fuell, had been many times in gaol for sundry offences. Four persons, in addition to this evidence, swore that they had known James Fuell many years and that he was utterly unworthy of any credit upon his oath.

Mr Justice PARK, at a late hour in the afternoon, began to sum up the evidence, which he went through in detail, commenting at considerable length upon the several facts sworn to, showing in what points the witnesses agreed and in what they differed from each other, and calling the attention of the jury to the corroborations and contradictions which the main witness for the prosecution had received. His Lordship did not forget to notice the extraordinary and, in some respects, improbable account which James Fuell had given, and, in conclusion, entreated of the jury to give the case their calmest and most unprejudiced consideration, and to give the prisoner the benefit of any reasonable doubt which, after they had so done, might remain on their minds as to his guilt.

The Jury, after deliberating for nearly ten minutes, found the prisoner Guilty.

Mr Justice Park immediately proceeded to pass sentence upon this young but most hardened criminal, who, if he has any feeling of propriety left in his breast, cannot fail to have ben deeply impressed by the mild but earnest exhortation and admonition of the learned judge. His Lordship, after a jury of his country had acquitted him, would not insinuate that he was in any manner the cause of his unhappy parent’s death. A fallible earthly tribunal had investigated that charge, and had acquitted him – how far correctly his own conscience would testify – but he ought never to forget that an omniscient Providence, to whom all the secrets of the human heart were known, would one day judge him. It was his bounden duty to endeavour to atone for his past offences bya life of penitence in future; and he had before him a prospect of a long life, in which he might endeavour to make some reparation to society for the many offences he had committed against its laws. His Lordship concluded by passing on the prisoner the sentence of transportation for seven years, being the utmost punishment which the law awards to the crime of which he was convicted.

The prisoner today, as on his trial for murder, showed the utmost indifference, and remained nearly unmoved throughout the whole of this painful investigation. Once or twice, indeed, during Mr Andrew’s address to the jury, and during the learned Judge’s sentence, he was affected even to tears; but his general demeanour was that of a reckless and abandoned youth.

Further Information

The case has appeared in several books, including The Chronicles of Crime Vol II by Camden Pelham published in 1841 (available on Google Books). This mentions that after his acquittal on the murder charge he was arrested a few days later charged with threatening “an old shepherd who had given evidence against him” – this must be Thomas WORSTER based on the trial reports above. The book notes that William could not be tried twice for murder, hence the robbery charge.

The case is also one of the Buckinghamshire Tales of Murder & Mystery by David Kidd-Hewitt published in 2003 by Countryside Books.

In 1894 J K Fowler of Aylesbury published his “Recollections of Old Country Life”. Chapter 18 includes the following emotive and intriguing comments about the case (in which no names are given but it is clearly the Adams case based on the facts involved), the trial and William’s fate.
* “[Thomas] was a man in a good position, but with a bad temper and had made himself much disliked by his numerous family, and also by his neighbours.”
* “[William] was a well-educated, good-looking, inoffensive young man, but known to be a wildish fellow when in Leighton Buzzard on market day.”
* “The greatest excitement prevailed, the trial lasting two days, and the court was filled to suffocation each day, with, as usual, a large proportion of ladies ; this is generally the case when any exciting trial is taking place, especially when it is for murder.”
* “I was present and heard the first trial, and like the majority of all who heard it believed in the guilt of the prisoner. I was intimately acquainted with his brother-in-law, who was a highly respectable farmer. He told me after the son had been transported that, as soon as the family heard of the confession, and the hiding of the pocket-book, he himself went off to the place indicated, found the pocket-book empty, exactly as it had been described by Fuell, and destroyed it, and thus prepared the groundwork of Kelly’s defence. They kept this secret, as the family could not but feel horrified at the disgrace of their brother being hung on the gallows, much as they knew he deserved it.”
* “The young man served his full time of transportation abroad, and came back to this country much broken in health, and died about a year afterwards of rapid consumption. He was very penitent, and fully confessed that he, and he alone, committed the terrible crime of shooting his unsuspecting father in a moment of unjustifiable anger.”

William was convicted on 19 July 1838 and received on board the prison hulk Leviathan in Portsmouth on 19 Sep 1838. He appears as no 4215 on the hulk register – as befits the family’s status he was recorded as being able to both read and write, and had “connexions very respectable”. There’s also a note that he had been in custody before (presumably a reference to his time in custody on the murder charge), and, interestingly enough, he was subsequently pardoned on 25 September 1841.