Murder seemed to follow miner Thomas Smith, 37, wherever he went. In 1855, when he was 32, a doctor near his village of Winlaton, County Durham, was robbed and murdered. Smith was a prime suspect, but he conveniently vanished. Later, a fellow-lodger of his was hanged for another murder committed in Winlaton.

In 1860 Smith, a prolific poacher, began chatting to a stranger, John Baty, in a pub. They did some hard drinking together until the small hours of the morning. Just before dawn two men on night shifts found Mr. Baty’s body in a field. His head had been cleaved in with a heavy instrument, and the clothes he was wearing were not his own.

Smith, the last man to be seen with Mr. Baty, was arrested a week later for the murder, still dressed in some of his victim’s clothes.

At his trial he claimed that after they both got very drunk they agreed to have a fistfight, and accordingly stripped to the waist. Baty got the worst of it.

The judge told the jury that the story was an unlikely one, and that Smith’s real motive was robbery. They still took more than three hours to convict him, and even recommended mercy. This was rejected by the Home Office, and Smith was hanged on Thursday, December 27th, 1860, outside Durham Prison, alongside Milner Lockey, 58, who had stabbed his wife’s lover to death.

Could the murder of John Baty have been the third time Smith killed someone? We shall never know the answer to that. Victorian murder stories from True Crime Library.

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