When John Cooper, a 26-year-old gardener, heard a fellow-drinker in the pub at Laughton, near Rotherham, asking the landlord the time of day, Cooper obligingly showed the stranger his watch. Then, finishing his drink, he set out to complete his journey on foot to his parents’ home, several miles away.

He never arrived. Bludgeoned to death with a hedge-stake, his body was found at a secluded spot near Roche Abbey. His watch, keys and money were missing.

The man to whom he had showed his watch in the pub was soon identified by the police as James Sargisson, of Rotherham. He knew all about the murder, he said. He claimed that he left the pub before Cooper and met his friend George Denton. He told Denton that there was a young man, a stranger, inside.

They talked together, and Denton said: “I’m going to kill yon man. Don’t thee split a word. I’ll give thee half of what he’s got.”

Denton put on a fake beard, pulled a stake from a hedge, and they followed Cooper as he left the pub. Grasping the stake in both hands, Denton knocked Cooper down, “and I never heard him speak again, not from first to last,” said Sargisson.

Denton pulled out Cooper’s watch and money. “Then he says, ‘Is he finished, Jim?’ I says, ‘I don’t know.’ He says, ‘Then I’ll finish the bugger.’ He hit the man several more blows.”

Sargisson went on to tell the police that he and Denton then left the scene. Denton “pulled the money out of his pocket and says, ‘There’s seven shillings and sixpence.’ He gave me the watch and keys.

“‘Now,’ he says, ‘Jim, whatever thou does, don’t split a word to nobody. No one’s seen us do it and they’ll never find us out. Thee go tomorrow and look at the place where it was done with other people,’ which I did do…”

Sargisson concluded: “If I had never seen him that night I should never have been here. I’ve been foolish to myself and a friend to him for keeping it in, that’s certain. That is the man and he knows it.”

Sargisson and Denton were arrested, but the case against Denton was quickly dropped for lack of evidence other than Sargisson’s story. In trying to shop his friend, apparently to claim the reward, he had succeeded only in shopping himself.

He was tried at West Riding Assizes and sentenced to death. He mounted the scaffold on Saturday, September 10th, 1864, alongside Joseph Myers (see his story above) and before a crowd estimated at 80,000, outside Armley Prison, Leeds. Unlike Myers, Sargisson died hard, struggling for two or three minutes at the end of the rope.