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Victorian Murder in Little Staughton

Jeanette Atkinson and Brenda Foster have been working on adding Community Archive pages for Little Staughton.

On the night of 29th November 1870, Sarah Marshall was brutally murdered in her tiny cottage (a one room cabin on a strip of waste land) on the High Street, Little Staughton. The cottage was described as 120 yards from the junction of Keysoe Row (then called Willow-Row) with the High Street. The Bedfordshire Times (4th April 1871) reported the execution of her convicted killer, local resident William Bull. Below is a summary of their article.

Sarah (aged 52 years) was known as ‘Old Sally' and it was reported that she was weak of mind and ‘her few neighbours within earshot ceased to take notice of her cries day or night’. At 9 pm on the 29th November Old Sally was seen alive and well by her nephew’s wife but by 9 am the following morning her body was cold and lifeless. William Grey and Charles Hockliffe secured the cabin and called PC Sturgess from Keysoe. The surgeon from Kimbolton examined the body and estimated the time of death as between midnight and 2 am. She had been beaten, subjected to an unnatural attack and strangled.

Witnesses came forward to say they had heard noises around midnight.  Suspicion immediately fell on 21 year-old ‘Billy Bull’ who had been drinking at a beer house (kept by Edward Wildman) along Keysoe Row, West End that evening. He already had a criminal conviction for a sexual assault when he was 14 years old.  Shepherd Joseph Green knew William Bull well and that he had passed along the Little Staughton Road at 11pm and saw a man, judged by his attire to be Bull and only a yard from the door of Sarah’s cottage. He called out ‘Goodnight’ but received no reply. As he proceeded on he heard the sound of a door latch and Sally shouting at someone.

PC Sturgess questioned Bull at work on Wednesday 30th November. On Friday morning he was charged with murder at his mother’s cottage at the north end of Scott’s Lane (now called Scott Street). Bull resisted arrest but was eventually taken into custody at Sharnbrook. Subsequent examination of Bull’s clothing revealed extensive contamination with blood; the position of the blood stains were considered to be consistent with the injuries and position of the dead woman. He was committed to Bedford Gaol on 3rd December 1870.

The jury took 20 minutes to convict Bull of wilful murder and no public appeals were made. In prison Bull completed a full confession to the murder on the 27th March 1871.

William Bull was executed at Bedford Goal at 8 am on 3rd April 1871; this was in private as public hangings were banned in 1868. However, lace bobbins (known as ‘Hanging Bobbins’) were made to mark the execution of William Bull and were sold to the public. The hangman at Bedford Goal was William Calcraft. Sarah Marshall’s cottage was pulled down on the order of the local landowner at that time.