John Massey, a medical student, looked aghast when his landlord asked him: “Can a man under the effects of narcotics be induced to sign cheques?” What was going on, young Massey wondered? Surely the landlord wasn’t planning on robbing someone?

Before he could think of an answer, more questions came thick and fast: “What happens to someone when they are chloroformed?” and “What happens to someone who gets shot by an air gun?”

Massey had an inkling of the purport of the questions – he knew that Marie, the wife of the landlord, Frederick Manning, was having an affair with another man, and he knew that Manning knew about the affair. He didn’t want to be around if murder was going to happen, so he gave in his notice and left.

Murder, indeed, was what Frederick Manning, 30, owner of a beer shop, had in mind. He was tired of being cuckolded by Patrick O’Connor, an elderly Irishman of some means, and it seems that Marie, 28, was tired of her lover too. So on August 9th, 1849, they invited O’Connor to dinner at their home in Bermondsey, London, and Marie shot him through the head. Manning was to say later: “I heard him moaning in the kitchen. I never liked him very much, so I finished him off with a ripping chisel.”

They buried O’Connor under the slabs of the kitchen floor, and next day Marie went to her ex-lover’s house and took away bonds, shares, money and two gold watches. Manning was sent off to sell the shares, and raised £110. Next day Marie went back to the house to collect more securities, but this time Manning’s nerve failed, and he declined to sell the shares.

Marie, who was born in Switzerland, was furious. “You wimp!” she stormed. “What do I need a man like you for?” So saying, she stormed out of the house with all the stolen money, went to Euston station and took a train to Edinburgh.

O’Connor’s relatives, meanwhile, raised a hue and cry. The police went to the murder house, and discovered the body under the kitchen slabs. Marie was arrested in Edinburgh, and her husband, who had fled to the Channel Islands, was arrested in a village near St. Helier, Jersey.

At their trial the Mannings refused to look at each other, each blaming the other for the murder. Both were found guilty, and hanged on Tuesday, November 13th, 1849, in front of a vast crowd outside Horsemonger Lane Prison. In a moving letter to The Times, Charles Dickens, who was one of the spectators, denounced the levity of the crowd and the ritual of capital punishment.

Marie Manning wore black satin for her execution – a fact that caused black satin dresses to go out of fashion.