Hayes, Catharine (DNB00)

HAYES, Mrs. CATHARINE (1690–1726), murderess, whose maiden name was Hall, was born near Birmingham in 1690. At the age of sixteen she gave up a disreputable life to marry John Hayes, a carpenter. The husband's trade not prospering they went to London, set up a small shop in Tyburn, afterwards Oxford Road, and let lodgings. Towards the close of 1725 there came as lodgers two men named Wood and Billings. Although the mother of twelve children she was criminally intimate with these persons, and the three determined to remove Hayes. On 1 March 1726 they killed him, after making him insensible with drink. The body was cut up and flung in a box into a pond at Marylebone. The head was cast into the Thames; when found on the following day it was publicly exposed in the churchyard of St. Margaret's, Westminster, for several days, and the murdered man was thus identified. On 24 March the trunk and limbs were discovered. Catharine Hayes and Billings had meanwhile been arrested on a warrant; Wood was captured shortly afterwards, and confessed the whole affair. Billings then admitted his complicity, but Hayes denied all knowledge of the murder. At the trial Hayes pleaded 'not guilty,' but was convicted of petty treason, and sentenced to be burnt alive. Wood and Billings were sentenced to be hanged. The case excited much popular attention, and the trial was attended by many noblemen and gentlemen (London Journal, 30 April 1726). Before 9 May, the day fixed for the execution, Wood died in Newgate, but an attempt by Hayes to poison herself failed. On 9 May she was tied to the stake at Tyburn with a halter round her neck. The executioner was foiled in an endeavour to strangle her by the burning of the rope, and the woman was finally killed by a piece of wood which was thrown at her head and dashed out her brains. Billings was hanged in chains in Marylebone Fields. At the time Hayes's crime was enshrined in ballads, and a correspondent of the 'London Journal' drew a voluminous parallel between the murders of John Hayes and Arden of Feveroham. Thackeray based his story of 'Catherine,' which first appeared in 'Fraser's Magazine,' 1839-40, on the career of Catharine Hayes.

[Life of Catharine Hayes, 1726; New Newgate Cnlendar, 1818, ii. 99-127; Daily Journal and Daily Post, March-May 1726; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. 50.]

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