Greenacre, James (DNB00)

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GREENACRE, JAMES (1785–1837), murderer, a farmer's son, born in 1785 at either North Runcton or West Winch, Norfolk, married, according to his own account, in his twenty-first year, and set up as a grocer on his own account at Woolwich. Better authority than his own testimony states that about 1804 his stepfather, a Norfolk farmer named Towler, bought a grocer's business for him in the Westminster Road, and that Greenacre behaving badly was turned adrift. In 1815 Greenacre was a fairly prosperous tradesman in the London Road, Southwark. A fluent speaker, he became well known as a local politician, advocating advanced political and religious views. He presided at meetings to support the return of Alderman John Humphery and Daniel Whittle Harvey, radical candidates for Southwark, and boasted that he was privy to the Cato Street conspiracy, and had narrowly escaped arrest. By 1830 he had opened a large shop in the Kent Road, and was elected parish overseer on Easter Tuesday 1832. In May 1833 an extensive seizure of sloe leaves was made on his premises by the excise, and on being sued for the penalty he hid himself for a fortnight, and then started for New York, taking his son James with him, but leaving behind a third wife, whom he had brutally ill-used. She died three weeks afterwards. He maintained himself in America as a carpenter, and endeavoured to promote the sale of a washing-machine of his own invention, but complained of being swindled of nearly all his portable property. After his flight his creditors in London made him bankrupt. According to his own statement he was twice imprisoned at New York for libel, and was married for a fourth time at Boston. Returning to London alone (in 1835) he declared war against his creditors and against his third wife's relatives, whom he accused of disposing of his property. He aired these grievances in printed statements. At 6 Carpenter's Buildings, Camberwell, he commenced the manufacture of 'amalgamated candy' for the cure of throat and chest disorders, from a herb which he professed to have discovered in America. About September 1836, while still in pecuniary difficulties, he made the acquaintance of a washerwoman named Hannah Brown, who represented herself as the owner of 300l. or 400l. A marriage between them was arranged for Christmas day in St. Giles's Church, Camberwell. On 24 Dec. he took her to his house at Camberwell, and there murdered her. He cut up the body and deposited the parts in various places on the outskirts of London. Before 2 Feb. the murder was discovered, and Greenacre, who had prepared to sail for Quebec under an assumed name, was arrested with a mistress, calling herself Sarah Gale, on 25 March. An attempt to strangle himself in the cell failed. The trial at the Central Criminal Court lasted two days (10 and 11 April 1837), and was followed by the public with the keenest interest. Though a sovereign apiece was charged for admission to the gallery, it was crowded to excess. The jury brought in a verdict of guilty against both Greenacre and Gale, and they were sentenced to death. Gale's sentence was commuted to transportation for life. Before his execution Greenacre endeavoured to enlist public sympathy by penning a hypocritically apologetic autobiography. He wrote to the home secretary (Lord John Russell) begging to be relieved from his strait-jacket, as it interfered with the intentness of his devotions, and, on receiving a refusal, composed a blasphemous 'Essay on the Human Mind.' Noblemen and members of parliament visited him in prison. He was hanged on 2 May 1837 in front of Newgate, the execution being witnessed by at least twenty thousand persons. Sarah Gale died in

Australia in 1888. [Times; Morning Chronicle; Norwich Mercury; Norfolk Chronicle; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, ii. 177. The account of the murder given in Recollections of John Adolphus is inaccurate in every particular.]

G. G.