“I am a murderer!” declared William Lees, a 35-year-old hairdresser, when he arrived at his sister’s house in Islington. When he told her how and why, she went with him by coach to his hairdressing salon in Chapman Street, Shadwell, in east London, where he lived with his wife Elizabeth.

There, just as he had said, was Elizabeth, 30, lying dead on the shop floor in a pool of blood. Her head had been almost severed by slashes from a razor.

Lees told his sister that he struck Elizabeth first with a piece of wood when they began to quarrel. He added that he had hidden a piece of rope inside his shirt because he intended hanging himself.

He had been an alcoholic from the age of 18. When he married he became very jealous of Elizabeth – once when she stayed out all night with friends he threatened to beat out her brains.

At his trial at the Old Bailey defence witnesses said that Elizabeth was often drunk too, and would frequently hit her husband. That plea failed to save him, and he was hanged on Monday, December 16th, 1839, outside Newgate Prison, before a crowd said to be “more numerous than normal but with fewer women present.” Victorian murder stories from True Crime Library.

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