The Case of Catherine Hayes

5 March 1726   Last Wednesday morning at day-light, there was found in the dock before Mr. Paul’s brewhouse, near the Horse-Ferry at Westminster, the head of a man, with brown curl’d hair, the Scull broke in two blaces, and a large cut on each cheek; judg’d to be upwards of 30, and, by all circumstances, appearing to have been newly cut from off a living body; but by whom, or on what account, is yet a secret. There was found near it, a bloody pail; and some bargemen have since affirmed, that they saw two Ruffian-like fellows bring that pail to the water-side, and throw the head into the Dock, and then run away. The head was the same day set up, and expos’d to publick view in St. Margaret’s Church-Yard; to the end, that any one knowing the features, might give some Account of the person. Several houses in Tuttle Fields, and about Westminster, have likewise been searched for the body. ’Tis a general opinion, that this miserable creature belonged to the gang of street-robbers, and was murder’d by them to prevent his making a Discovery, or for other reasons amongst themselves. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

12 March 1726   The head found at Westminster, said to have belong’d to a porter, was disown’d by the porter himself; but on Thursday a poor woman from Kingsland, whose husband has been missing ever since the day before the head was taken up, came to the surgeon’s where it lies, in great grief, and found the head to be her husband’s, but knows nothing how he came to be murther’d. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

26 March 1726   The arms, thighs, and legs of a man cut asunder, as if done with a butcher’s cleaver, were found last Wednesday in a pond by Marybone, and on Thursday they drag’d the pond and took out the trunk of the body wrapt up in a blanket, but finding no head, ’tis suppos’d that which was exposed to publick view at Westminster in St. Margaret’s Church-Yard, belong’d thereto. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

26 March 1726   The body of a man has been found without a head near Tottenham-Court-Road, much mangled and bruised; which, by the time of lying, is supposed to have belonged to the head lately found at Westminster. — The wife and her gallant are taken, on violent suspicion of the said murder, together with another woman, and committed to several prisons. His name was John Hays. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

2 April 1726   Margaret [actually: Catherine] Hayes, who stands committed to Newgate for petty-treason, for being concern’d in the most inhumane and unheard-of murder of her husband John Hayes, (whose head was found in Westminster on the 2d ult.) hath confess’d, That she hath had fourteen children by her said husband; That having criminal conversation with Thomas Wood, a butcher, and Thomas Billins, a taylor, both Worcestershire men, they put her upon complying with the execrable deed, that they might get into the possession of her husband’s substance, and keep her without molestation; That when her husband was murdered, they took out of his pocket 26 guineas, 9 King George’s shillings, and 6 six-pence, 11 guineas whereof they return’d her, and kept the rest themselves.

And on Monday the said Thomas Billins was removed from New-Prison to Newgate, by Justice Lambert’s Warrant, and loaded with irons, and are since put into the condemn’d hold, but are not stapled down.

Also the same day in the evening, the abovesaid Thomas Wood was brought to Newgate in a coach, guarded by a Serjeant and two Files of Musqueteers and several Constables; the mob all the way expressing their joy by loud huzzas. He confessed before Colonel Mohun and Mr. Lambert, two Justices of the Peace, That himself and Billins first made the late Mr. Hayes drunk with claret in his own gouse; (the wife having furnish’d money for that purpose) and that he falling asleep, Billins broke his scull as he lay on the bed with an ax, and knock’d out his brains, which causing a great effusion of blood, the good woman advis’d to cut the head off, which was done accordingly; she afterwards brought them a box to put the body in, but not being sufficient to receive it, they quarter’d the same, and carry’d it out as formerly mention’d. We hear the wife gave the murtherer her husband’s hat, coat, and some silver, and assured him he should not want; and that last Sunday he came to town for more money, and calling at her lodging, the landlord said she was remov’d to the next street; and so carry’d him to a friend of the deceas’d, where he was secur’d. Wood upon his confession of having quarter’d the deceas’d, being ask’d if he was not a butcher by trade, said, he was not, but could kill and cut up a beast as well as any butcher at all.

The mangled corpse was carried out of town on Monday last in an hearse followed by several mourning coaches, to be interr’d at Ombersley in Worcestershire; his mother, who is come to town, having order’d the funeral, and a vigorous prosecution against the murderers. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer] [Later that month the prosecution was undertaken at the King’s expence and managed by the Solicitor to the Treasury.]

9 April 1726   Last Saturday it was discover’d, That William Billins, by trade a taylor, the person that beat out Mr. Hayes’s brains with a hatchet, on the 1st of March last, at his house in Tyburn-Road; is the natural son of Margaret Hayes, begotten by a tanner in Worcestershire, before her marriage with the said Mr. Hayes. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

16 April 1726   On Thursday the Coroner’s Inquest (having before view’d the mangled body of Mr. John Hays, who was barbarously murther’d, as hath been mention’d) met at a house near Soho, and brought in their verdict Wilful Murther, against Katherine Hays, his wife, and John Wood and John Billings. We hear that the said Katherine Hays now denies all that she hath confessed. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

30 April 1726   On Saturday last, the Sessions ended at the Old-Baily, when the 15 following malefactors received sentence of death; viz. Catharine Hayes, Thomas Wood, and Thomas Billings, for murder; the former to be drawn on an hurdle to Tyburn, and there burnt alive. Thomas Wright, Gabriel Lawrence, George Reger, William Griffin for sodomy; Mary Schuffman, Jane Vanvick, for felony; John Mapp, John Gillingham, and Henry Vigus, for robberies on the highway; John Cotterell and another man for burglary; and Joseph Treen for horse-stealing. Wood and Billings, begg’d hard that they might not be hang’d in chains; and Catharine Hayes, receiv’d her particular sentence with the utmost terror. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

30 April 1726   On Tuesday Catherine Hayes, being at the Chapel in Newgate with the other malefactors under sentence of death, fainted away several times. She publickly declares That not a shilling would she give to save her life; but a hat-full of guineas, if she had them, she would bestow to save her from being burnt. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

14 May 1726   Monday the following malefactors were executed at Tyburn, viz. Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin, Thomas Wright, the three sodomites, who were conveyed together in one cart to the Tree; John Gillingham, John Map and Henry Vigous, the three highway-robbers, together in another; and John Cotterell and James Dupress, two house-breakers, together with Thomas Billings, one of the murderers of Mr. Hayes, in a third cart: Catharine Hayes being drawn thither on an hurdle. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer; Thomas Wood had died in prison before he could be executed.]

The latter [Catharine Hayes] was drawn to Tyburn on a hurdle, and there burnt alive, without the indulgence of being first strangled, as has been customary in like cases. But, to strike a proper terror in the spectators of so horrid a crime, a special Order was sent to the Sheriff to the contrary. She was fasten’d to the stake by an iron collar round her neck, and an iron chain round her body, having an halter also about her neck, (running through the stake) which the Executioner pulled when she began to shriek: In about an hour’s time she was reduced to ashes. She affirmed in Newgate, that Billings was her own son, got by Mr. Hayes’s father, when she lived with him as a servant. So that Billings murder’d his own brother, assisted in quartering him, and then lay with his own mother, while his brother’s mangled limbs were under the bed. Billings was hanged in chains near Tyburn in the road to Padington. [London Journal]

Catharine Hayes, as soon as the others were executed, was, pursuant to a Special Order, made fast to a stake, with a chain round her Waste, her feet on the ground, and an halter round her neck, the end whereof went through an hole made in the stake for that purpose:

Catherine Hayes being burned at the stake

The fuel being placed round her, and lighted with a torch, she begg’d for the sake of Jesus, to be strangled first: whereupon the Executioner drew tight the halter, but the flame coming to his hand in the space of a second, he let it go, when she gave three dreadful shrieks; but the flames taking her on all sides, she was heard no more; and the Executioner throwing a piece of timber into the Fire, it broke her skull, when her brains came plentifully out; and in about an hour more she was entirely reduced to ashes. She confess’d herself guilty in part of the murder of her husband Mr. John Hayes, for which she beg’d God and the world pardon, and declar’d she repented herself heartily for being concern’d in it: She had a great confidence of an happy state, because she said she was charitable and just in her dealings. She own’d Billings to be her son, and that his true name was Thomas Hayes. She was somewhat confus’d in her thoughts, and dyed in the Communion of the Church of England. Thomas Billings was the same day hang’d in chains within 100 yards of the gallows. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

A little before the above-named criminals were turned off, John Map and Henry Vigus attempted to escape. The former having slipt off his halter and hand-strings, leaped out of the cart, and the latter had likewise got off his halter, but was prevented from getting out of the cart. Map was immediately seized, and they both submitted to the fate of their fellow-sufferers. [London Journal]

Just before the execution, a scaffold [i.e. benches for the spectators] that had been built near Tyburn, and had about 150 people upon it, fell down. A snuff box maker in Castle-Street, and a Gentleman then not known, were, as ’tis believ’d, mortally wounded; and about 12 other men and women, maimed and wounded in a most cruel manner: Some having their legs, others their arms, &c. broke. Some part of the scaffold being left standing, the mob gathered upon it again in numbers; and in about half and hour more, that also fell down, and several were hurt. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

The scaffolding broke down two or three times near the place of execution, by which much damage was done; five or six persons were either killed on the spot, or are since dead; and several persons had their legs and Arms broken.[London Journal]

Tuesday last the body of Gabriel Lawrence, one of the sodomites executed at Tyburn, was dissected at Surgeon’s-Hall. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

21 May 1726
It may be very well worth the observation of the present age, in which such enormous crimes are every day starting out to view, that even when patriarchal government, and the controul of fathers over their families, was the strongest constraint upon mankind, marriage was instituted with such sanctity, and the woman consider’d so much the bone and flesh of her husband, that therefore, as the text tells us, should a man leave his father and his mother, and should cleave unto his wife, and they should be one flesh. Hearts and hands were then join’d with all the sentiments of affection, tenderness and innocence, requisite to make the state of wedlock happy, as it was intended; and a series of ages roll’d on, before any breach of faith was discover’d in unwarrantable embraces.

I doubt not but the first woman, who betray’d the rights of her husband’s bed, was look’d upon as a prodigy, and detested as a monster of infamy. When examples grow frequent, it was time for law to interpose a coertion, and to make the practice scandalous by the punishment. Among the inflictions that were laid on the fair sex for this trespass of adultery, there were some that would be very grievous at this day; the delinquents were not allow’d to keep a maid, to wear rich cloaths, or appear at publick solemnities: Another part of their sentence might be born, perhaps, with more Christian patience, I mean that of their being prohibited to enter within the Church-doors.

Now I am touching upon these Athenian Laws, I cannot help mentioning a circumstance, which is told us by Cicero, concerning that wise Republick. Solon, in his whole Body of Laws, had made no provision for punishing the crime of parricide; and being ask’d the reason, he reply’d, the provision was unnecessary, for he could not imagine that a child would ever kill his parent. It is certainly as unreasonable to suspect, that a wife could ever take it into her head to murther her husband.

Antiquity, indeed, has furnish’d some Instances of outragious females, that have been their husbands executioners; yet, whenever this has happen’d, a colourable excuse has been thrown in to give a gloss of reason to the daring action. The fifty daughters of Danaus, I think, are authorities of the oldest date; but then their very marriage was a force, a rape, at least, upon their inclinations; and they had the Devil’s Oracle to bear them out in getting rid of their ravishers. Clytemnestra, who has been the mark of reproach for so many ages, did not want her pretences to palliate the deed of blood; and Agamemnon was not dispatch’d by her to make room for her adulterer Ægysthus; but to revenge the death of her daughter Iphigenia, whom the father had sacrific’d, under the colour of sending for her to be married.

The advocates for modern improvement, I am afraid, must be obliged to allow, that we out-strip our simple ancestors in these circumstances of caution. Our women now, whenever they lift the knife against their husbands, do not consult to defend themselves with pretexts to make it necessary; but are content to say, either that the Devil was busy with them; or to found a provocation from some trivial misusage, or being stinted in the ncessaries of life. As to the Devil’s share in the business, I shall leave that to the Divines; but I wish heartily, when the other pleas come to be look’d into, it do not appear that the objected misusage is too often drawn upon the parties by their own provoking conduct; and that what they call necessasries may more properly be stil’d unreasonable superfluities.

It was the best excuse, I think, Mrs. HAYES, who so lately suffer’d the rigour of the law, was to give for her execrable action, that her husband beat and almost starv’d her. These, indeed, if true, had been circumstances of great clamour on her side, had she not taken such dreadful reprizals upon her husband, but, to believe them true, we must suppose her a woman of more patience than can be easily allow’d, to cohabit with a man not in want, for near twenty years, in a starving condition. How pardonable a trespass might she have made in elopment, which would have been justified by her complaints, and attempt to provide her self by honest industry! But unhappily for herself, and to the eternal blast of her memory, counsels of malice, rather than of justification, took place with her. I am entitl’d to say this, as her crime was petit treason: And that the law defines to be, where one out of malice takes away the life of a subject to whom he oweth special obedience.

Her case is too notoriously known to be insisted upon here in all its circumstances; some of them are almost too horrid for imagination; that she should be six weeks working up two villains to a resolution of the fact; that a false appearance of mirth and pleasure should be made an instrument to it; that the poor man should be drank down by his designed murtherers, to prevent any resistance; and that she should assist after the stroke given, in dismembring the trunk, and disposing of the mangled limbs, to seal up the eyes of discovery.

There is something very hideous in a woman’s putting her own son upon so execrable an office; but how much more monstrous is it, when the son is employ’d to dispatch the father, that he may supply his place, with the less interruption, in his mother’s embraces! — rumour and circumstances have thrown this aggravation to Mrs. Hayes’s iniquity; but I would willingly presume it a scandal, and out of the limits of credibility.

Nature has so finely guarded, that we seldom have an appetite to break into the lines of incestuous consanguinity: Mothers seldom sigh for their sons, or sisters for their brothers, with irregular desires: Seldom, I say; for there is no rule without its exceptions; and hardly an age without its monsters. . . .

I am, Sir, Your humble servant, PHILALETHES. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "The Case of Catherine Hayes", 18 November 2001, updated 28 November 2001 <>

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