The little shop run by Charlotte Pearcey, 21, at her cottage at Lickey End, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, wasn’t much bigger than a cupboard, but it served as a focal point for the village. Consternation prevailed therefore when on Friday, January 13th, 1893, Charlotte was found dead behind the counter, with an axe embedded in her skull. Her shop till had been emptied.

Everyone guessed who the murderer was. A pedlar had been seen hanging around the village for days, with a tray filled with odd items for sale hung around his neck and a notice on it that said “DEAF AND DUMB.” And now the pedlar had vanished into the morning mist.

Police discovered that he was a Frenchman named Amie Meunier, who lived in Great Colmore Street, Birmingham, and regularly worked the death and dumb routine not because he was a deaf-mute, but to hide his French accent. Inquiries in Birmingham revealed that he had fled to Brussels, where he was arrested by Belgian police and sent back to the UK.

Brought to trial at Worcester Quarter Sessions, Meunier proved anything but deaf and dumb. Conducting his own defence, he repeatedly jumped to his feet to contest some prosecution point, or to interrupt witnesses with shouts of “Lies! Lies! It is all lies!” which were followed by looks of hurt indignation aimed at the jury.

This cut no ice with the jurors. They found him guilty on overwhelming evidence and he was hanged at Worcester Prison on Wednesday, July 19th, 1893. His last words were to executioner James Billington. Speaking in a muffled voice through the white hood placed over his head, he said: “Just kill me the first time. I cannot…”

The end of the sentence was cut off by the prison clock chiming eight and the roar as the trap-doors opened.