- Episode 3- Murder in the Red Barn
After years of back luck with love, Maria Marten meets and fall in love with a handsome farmer. She becomes pregnant and they are set to marry. But when Maria Disappears, the town of Polstead begins to question William Corder on her where abouts.
Listen to “Murder in the Red Barn, Part 1” on Spreaker.
Listen to “Murder in the Red Barn, Part 2” on Spreaker.
Born July 24th 1801, Maria Marten was the daughter of the towns Molecatcher William Marten. She was very beautiful, fair skin and her hair of dark curls. Maria caught the eye of many men in the town. She first met Thomas Corder when she was 17. And fell in love. They saw each other for a time and she had become pregnant. Thomas, not wanting to be a father left Maria. Sadly, Maria had lost the child soon after. She didn’t let that deter her from love. She met Peter Matthews and they started a relationship, she became pregnant with his child. It was the same as with Thomas, Peter did not want to be a father and left Maria.
She had given birth to a son, Thomas Henry and she sent word of this to Peter. He still did not want to be a father, instead he sent her money to care for the boy. She was happy for a time. William was born in 1804 he was the son of a prosperous farmer who lived in Polstead. William was known to be rowdy and a lady’s man. He used to steal from his father as well as fellow neighbors. He was always ready for a scheme. His father, tired of his son being a disappointment. Sent him to London to find work.
Tragedy struck that caused William to return home to work the farm with his mother. His father and his brothers were dead. William looked for distraction from his new-found responsibilities and He found the perfect one.
Maria and William began their affair, they would meet in secret. That is what William wanted. But when Maria became pregnant a year later with his child, it was no longer a secret. Maria was adamant about William marrying her. Their son was born in 1827, but sadly passed away shortly after but William still seemed intent on Marrying Maria. William became worried because of Maria’s less than favorable reputation, that she would be arrested and persecuted for having multiple children out of wedlock. He suggested to her that they run away to elope.
With the help of Maria’s step mother Ann, they set up a plan. They decided to meet Wednesday, May 16th at a Red Barn that was less than a mile away from her home. From there they would go to Ipswitch to be married. Wednesday arrived and he didn’t show, he sent word to Maria that they needed to move it to Thursday evening. But Thursday evening came, and he delayed again, stating that his brother was ill.
Friday arrived and so did William, but he was in a hurry. He said that the constable showed him a letter that gave him warrant to take Maria for having multiple bastard children. Maria didn’t want to leave yet since it was the middle of the day, she was worried that she’d be seen.
William replied to her
“You have been disappointed several times, and you must go now”
William suggested she’d dress in men’s clothing and pack a bag with clothing, so Maria could change when they left. She packed a bag and handed it over to him. He said he would take her bag to the barn and return shortly. When he returned she was dressed in her father’s clothes and tied Williams green handkerchief around her neck. As they left the house, Maria went out of one door and William out of another. But they headed in the same direction, to the barn. That was the last time that anyone heard from or saw Maria.
A few days later William had returned to Polstead. When her parents asked about Maria, William told them she was staying with a female relative in Yarmouth. They had not married yet since he had to go to London to get a marriage license.
Maria’s parents became suspicious, but William did his best to ease their minds. After returning to Polstead yet again from another trip. He told them that she was living with some friends of his at Yarmouth by the name of Roland. William told them Maria was in good health and happy. Her father asked why she couldn’t write to him. William told them either she was busy, or she had a sore on the back of her hand that stopped her from using her fingers.
While staying in Polstead during the harvest time, William had spoken with several other people and gave them each different story about where and how Maria was. He told one person that she had by steam packet to France and another that she was living close to them. But, it was one peculiar conversation and raised eyebrows and made William seem suspect.
Is Maria likely to have more children?
No, she is not. Maria will have no more Children
Why not? She is still a very young woman?
No; believe me, she will have no more; she has had her number.
Is she far from hence?
No, she is not far from us; I can go to her whenever I like, and I know that when I am not with her, nobody else is.
Around the same time of this conversation, William had borrowed a spade from Mrs. Stow, she could not remember exactly which day it was. It was learned that it was sometime in September during which William was working at the barn during the Harvest and once the harvest was complete and the corn was placed in the barn William left Polstead.
On his way out of town William traveled with a man named Bright to Colchester, for reasons unknown he had told Bright that he had not seen Maria since May. But prior to leaving told Maria’s father that he should take pleasure in seeing her soon. That he bought a new suit in which he intended to marry Maria in.
It was late October when Maria’s father received a letter from William, he announced that Maria and he were married. William wrote of his surprise that They hadn’t responded to Maria’s letter which told of their marriage. The letter also told of their worries of being found.
Except from Williams Letter:
London, Bull Inn, Leadenhall-street, Thursday, October 18th.
“Thomas Marten. – I am just arrived at London upon business respecting our family affairs, and am writing to you before I take the least refreshment, because I shall be in time for this night’s post, as my stay in town will be very short, anxious to return again to her who is now my wife, and with whom I shall be one of the happiest men. I should have her with me, but it was her wish to stay at our lodgings at
Newport, in the Isle of Wight, which she described to you in her letter; and we feel astonishment that you have not yet answered it; thinking illness must have been the cause. In that she gave you a full description of our marriage, and that Mr. Roland was daddy, and Miss bridesmaid. Likewise told you they came with us as far as London, where we continued together very comfortable for 3 days, when we parted with the greatest regret.
William went on to talk of their travels to the Isle or Wight, how their traveling companions had returned home. What was curious was how William ended the letter.
“I think you had better burn all letters, after taking all directions, that nobody may form the least idea of our residence. Adieu”
A week later Thomas received another letter from William:
“I received your letter this morning, which reached London yesterday, but letters are not delivered out here on a Sunday; that I discovered on making inquiry yesterday. However, I could not get through my business before this afternoon, and I am going to Portsmouth by this night’s coach. I have been this day to the General Post Office, making inquiry about the letter Maria wrote you on the 30th September which you say never came to your hands. The clerk of the office traced the books back to this day and it was wrote, and he said a letter, directed as I told him to you, never came through their office, which I think is very strange.
However, I am determined to find out how it was lost, if possible, but I must think coming over the water to Portsmouth, which I will enquire about to-morrow, when I hope to find out the mystery. It is, I think, very odd that the letters should be lost in this strange way. Was it not for the discovery of our residence, I would not certainly indict the Post-office, but I cannot do that without making out appearance at a court-martial, which would be very unpleasant to us both. You wish for us to come to
Polstead, which we should be happy to do, but you are not aware of the danger. You may depend, if ever we fall into Mr.P—‘s hands, the consequence would prove fatal; therefore should he write to you, or should he come to Polstead, you must tell him you have not the least knowledge of us, but you think we are gone into some foreign part. “
His letters continued, giving them good wishes, telling them they would return as soon as it was safe to do so. It was almost a year later, and they still haven’t heard from Maria, her stepmother was so distraught she dreamt of Maria almost every night. Ann claims, that Maria came to tell her that William had murdered her. That he buried her in the Red Barn. She finally told her husband of the dreams and he made his way to the Red Barn to put his wife’s mind at ease.
He started digging in one of the grain storage bins, what he found was a horrific scene. Wrapped in a sack were human remains. Although the body was badly decomposed, Maria’s sister was able to identify her by her hair, clothing and a missing tooth. There was one piece that made William the guilty party.
Wrapped tightly around Maria’s neck was William green handkerchief.
A manhunt was on the way to find William Corder. They were able to track him down in England. William had been busy as it turned out. Shortly after his return to London, William placed an ad in the
Morning Herald looking for a wife:
“A Private Gentleman, aged 24, entirely independent, whose disposition is not to be exceeded, has lately lost the chief of his family by the hand of Providence, which has occasioned discord among the remainder, under circumstances most disagreeable to relate. To any female of respectability, who would study for domestic comfort, and willing to confide for future happiness in one every way qualified to render the marriage state desirable, as the advertiser is in affluence; the lady must have the power of some property, which may remain in her own possession.
Many very happy marriages have taken place through means similar to this now resorted to, and it is hoped no one will answer this through impertinent curiosity, but should this meet the eye of any agreeable lady, who feels desirous of meeting with a sociable, tender, kind, and sympathetic companion, they will find the advertisement worth of notice. Honour and secrecy may be relied on. As some little security against all applications, it is requested that letters may be addressed, to A.Z. care of Mr. Foster, Stationer, No. 68, Leadenhall Street, which will meet with the most respectful attention.”
He met and married Mary Moore, during the same time he was telling everyone he was married to Maria. William and his new wife opened a boarding house known as Everly Grove. With the help of London Police, the were able to corner Corder and present to charges against him.
Sir, I have a little business with you.
Please, walk into the drawing room.
I am an officer from London, I am here to apprehend you on a very serious charge., you must consider yourself my prisoner.
The charge is respecting a young woman of Maria Marten, whom you formerly kept company with. She had been missing for a length of time, and strong suspicions are attached to you. I believe you know such a person? It was a young woman your kept company with in Suffolk.
No, I do now know such a person
Did you never know such a person?
“No, never. You must be mistaken in the person you have come to apprehend”
“No, I am not mistaken as to the person, your name is Corder I believe”
“Yes, that is correct sir”
“Did you never knew Maria Marten?”
William was told to recollect himself and the officer tried again, William still denied knowing Maria. The officer arrested William and searched the house. He took notes on swords and pistols that he has seen. He then found something of interest, a small black velvet bag there was something about the bag, it was lined with old silk, and had a broad selvage around the rim. Maria’s step mother had given instruction on the bag that Maria had left with. Officer Lea now held that bag in his hands.
William was then taken to the Red Lion at Brentford, while travelling the officer told William Maria was found buried at his Red Barn and William asked when she was found. When the officer told him, William stayed silent for the remainder of the trip.
Back in Polstead, an examination of Marias body had begun. They discovered she had been strangled, stabbed and shot in the face there was also a stab wound near the pistol shot as well. When removing the green handkerchief from around Marias neck, the surgeons stated, that it was wrapped so tightly around her neck, this was surely the main cause of her death.
This report was sent to London and Officer Lea remembered the Pistols and the Swords at Williams house. Lea returned there and collected the sword and the pistols. The sword was then compared to the wounds on Maria’s body. It was then learned that back in May, William had taken the sword to a cutler and paid to make the sword sharp. Once finished, William was seen with the sword before he left Polstead.
With all the facts and evidence adding up, William went to Trial, for the Murder of Maria Marten.
Everyone who had ever known William and Maria were called before the bar. Each telling their accounts of what happened before, up to and after the events. It was becoming clear to all, that William had been dishonest. Why all the lies? At long last, William stood before the bar and gave his truth on what happened that night in the Red Barn.
*It was noted that he says this shaken, sad, and remorseful*
“I have heard the evidence, and am free to say that, unexplained, it may cause great suspicion, but you will allow me to explain it. Proceeding, my lord and gentlemen, to the real facts of this case, I admit there is evidence calculated to excite suspicion, but these facts are capable of explanation; and convinced as I am of my entire innocence, I have to entreat you to listen to my true and simple detail of the read facts of the death of this unfortunate woman.
I was myself so stupefied and overwhelmed with the strange and disastrous circumstance, and on that account so unhappily driven to the necessity of immediate decision, that I acted with fear instead of judgment, and I did that which any innocent man might have done under such unhappy circumstances. I concealed the appalling occurrence, and was as is the misfortune of such errors, subsequently driven to sustain the first falsehoods by others, and to persevere in a system of delusion which furnished by the facts concealed for a long time.
At first I gave a false account of the death of the unfortunate Maria. I am not resolved to disclose the truth, regardless of the consequences. To conceal her pregnancy from my mother, I took lodgings at Sudbury; she was delivered of a male child, which died in a fortnight in the arms of Mrs. Marten, although the newspapers have so perverted that fact and it was agreed between Mrs. Marten, Maria and Me, that the child should be buried in the fields. There was a pair of small pistols in the bed-room,
Maria knew they were there. I had often showed them to her. Maria took them away from me. I had some reason to suspect she had some correspondence with a gentleman, by whom she had a child, in London. Though her conduct was not free from blemish, I at length yielded to her entreaties, and agreed to marry her, and it was arranged we should go to Ipswich, and procure a license and marry.
Whether I said there was a warrant out against her I know not. It has been proved that we had many words, and that she was crying when she left the house.
Gentleman, this was the origin of the fatal occurrence. I gently rebuked her; we reached the barn; while changing her dress she flew into a passion, upbraiding me with not having so much regard for her as the gentleman before alluded to. Feeling myself in this manner so much insulted and irritated, when I was about to perform every kindness and reparation, I said. ‘Maria, if you go on in this way before marriage, what have I to expect after? I shall therefore stop when I can, I will return straight home, and you can do what you like, and act just as you think proper.’ I said I would not marry her.
In consequence of this I retired from her, when I immediately heard the report of a gun or pistol, and running back I found the unhappy girl weltering on the ground. Recovering from my stupor, I thought to have left the spot; but I endeavored to raise her from the ground, but found her entirely lifeless. To my horror, I discovered the pistol was one of my own she had privately taken from my bed-room. There she lay, killed by one of my own pistols, and I the being by! My faculties were suspended. I knew not what to do
The instant the mischief happened I thought to have made it public, but this would have added to the suspicion and I then resolved to conceal her death. I then buried her in the best way I could.”
William goes on to claim that he never stabbed Maria, that because the police had found them in his possession they needed to create more evidence against him. He said that he loved her and had every intention to marry her. Why would he take her life? He said they had been alone many times and if he wanted to kill her he would have done it earlier. He says he lied to protect Maria. To take her own life was a Sin and he wanted to save her from that ridicule.
Once William had finished, and the trial had concluded. The foreman of the Jury asked to retire to deliberate.
It took less than a half hour before the Jury reach their decision and returned to the court room
Lord Chief Baron:
“Do you have anything to say on why you should not die according to the law?”
William said Nothing, and the Lord Chief Baron gave the verdict.
Lord Chief Baron:
“William Corder, it is now my painful duty to announce to you the near approach of the close of your mortal career. You have been accused of murder, which is almost the highest offence that can be found in the whole of the catalogue of crime. You denied your guilt, and put yourself on your deliverance to the country.
After a long, patient, and an impartial trial, the country has decided against you, and most justly. You stand convicted of an aggravated breach of the great prohibition of the Almighty creator of Mankind, ‘Thou shalt do no murder. Nothing remains for me now to do, but to pass upon you the awful sentence of the law. That sentence is, that you be taken back to prison from which you came, and that you be taken thence, on Monday next, to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck til you are dead, and that your body shall afterwards be dissected and anatomized, and the Lord God Almighty have mercy on your soul!”
The day of his execution, there was a crowd of people in attendance. The times news had reported that “The whole of the laboring classes struck work for the day, in order that they may have an opportunity of witnessing the execution of this wretched criminal” William walked up to the scaffold and looked around, after a few moment, the noose was slipped around his neck and a bag placed over his head. Within minutes, William Corder was dead and cut down.
The Red Barn Murder became famous, from the act, to the trial and finally with the execution. There were plays, puppet shows and ballads written about the Murder, and Maria Marten’s story continues to live on.