Widowed Jane Emerson, 72, led a sad and solitary life in Victorian England. Despite her age she was employed manning the level crossing at Durrin Hill, Carlisle, and after a 10-hour shift on November 7th, 1862, she trudged along a path beside the railway track to her cottage, a couple of hundred yards from the level crossing.
Unbeknown to Jane, engine driver William Charlton, 32, was lying in wait for her in the darkness. Convinced that she kept a large sum of money in her cottage, he had armed himself with a hedge slasher and an iron bar, and had murder on his mind.
As the weary old lady pushed open her front door Charlton sprang out on her, beating her savagely about the head. As she fell moaning in agony on her threshold he went into the cottage and looted it, leaving her to die there some hours later.
When her body was discovered next day there was no sign of the killer. But a boot print he had left in the garden caught police attention, and they carefully made a plaster cast of it.
After that, finding the culprit was a piece of detective work that would have excited Sherlock Holmes. The police were convinced that the killer was au fait with Jane Emersons movements a supposition that led them to believe he could be a railway worker. When a policeman remembered seeing Charlton near Janes cottage at 4 a.m. on November 8th a few hours after she was murdered the engine driver was brought in for questioning.
Charlton denied any involvement, but his boot exactly fitted the plaster cast. Challenged with this evidence, he said: I lent my boots to my brother-in-law the day before the old lady was killed. But his brother-in-law had a perfect alibi.
Charlton was found guilty of Janes murder at the assizes in February 1862, the jury recommending mercy on account of his previous good character.
On the gallows outside Carlisle Prison on Saturday, March 15th, 1862, he declared: Yes, I lied about my boots, but Im innocent of this crime.