Stories of the grim lives of the poor in mid-Victorian England are legion and the tale of Alice Holt’s brief sojourn on Earth, while not exactly typical, is a reflection of those dark and sinister times. She lived with her boy friend George, whose surname she was using, her mother Mary Bailey, 51, and a family of four lodgers, in a slum in Egerton Street, Stockport.

Not surprisingly, given the living conditions, Mrs. Bailey became ill with bronchitis. When the doctor visited her she told him: “On top of all my troubles, my daughter is abusing me.”

Alice, then 27, hit on the idea of insuring her mother’s life for £25. She realised that Mrs. Bailey would never pass a medical test, so she persuaded a friend to impersonate her for the medical.

The scam worked, the insurance policy was accepted, and Alice and the woman lodger then went off to buy some arsenic. On March 27th, 1863, Mrs. Bailey died, the doctor certified natural causes, and the insurers paid up.

So far so good. But the lodger had a loose tongue. “I thought we bought the arsenic to kill all the fleas in the house,” she told friends. “But now I’m not so sure.” The plot was gradually revealed and Alice was arrested.

At her trial plenty of people believed George Holt, her lover, had incited her, so much so that after he gave evidence at the trial he had to have a police escort to take him back to Stockport. Alice was found guilty and confessed in the death cell. She said George Holt had frequently beaten her and had suggested she should kill her mother, although it could never be proved he incited her.

Alice went to the gallows on Monday, December 28th, 1863, in a thin, revealing dress, and chewing peppermints. The last moments of her life were shocking. As she approached the noose she partially collapsed and she had to be dragged to the trap-door. When the lever was pulled the drop didn’t open properly and her screams as she was slowly strangled stunned the 1,000 crowd. When the trap-door was finally forced apart she still took two more minutes to die in agony. Victorian murder stories from True Crime Library.

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