A prosperous New York printer went to a Connecticut orphanage in search of a servant. “I need a suitable young man to do the chores in my summer home,” he explained to the director. “I thought it would be a civil thing if I took someone who was disadvantaged.”

He couldn’t have found anyone more “disadvantaged” than teenager Charles Cross. Charles’s mother was a prostitute who drank herself to death and his father was a mental defective who regularly drank himself into a stupor. Orphaned at the age of seven, Charles was sent to a home for abandoned children where he endured malnutrition, cruelty and sexual abuse. Even his own grandmother described him as a chronic liar, a thief, and a chain-smoker.

Cross worked well for his employer for several months but began fancying the printer’s wife, Sarah. On November 7th, 1899, he hid himself in her bedroom and when she went to bed sprang out of a cupboard and attacked her. He stripped her naked on the bed and, after raping her, battered her to death with a coal shovel.

Cross blamed the woman’s death on burglars, but confessed after being arrested. “When some of the more depraved details of the crime became known, those who were in favour of clemency shrank to a precious view,” says a report of the murder. Cross was hanged on Friday, July 20th, 1900, at the age of 17.