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The Shefford Murderers

The shortlived magazine The Bedford Bee has a report in its edition of 13th August 1879: "THE SHEFFORD MURDERERS: On Saturday afternoon at the Old Bailey, James Dilley, 41 and Mary Rainbow, 29, were sentenced to death for murdering their unlawful child at Hornsey. The man is married, and was Postman at Shefford until his arrest. He seduced the unmarried Mary Rainbow who was in service in the same place. The woman went to London to be confined and there they both killed and threw away the child. It is not probable that the execution will take place, the woman indeed, was recommended to mercy, but that life-long imprisonment will have to be borne is certain. They are a bad pair and in such a case the married prisoner should be pilloried. We are sorry for his wife and family".

Other accounts state that Dilley was a picture-framer and part time postman who met Rainbow at her place of work at Baldock [Hertfordshire]. The baby was three months old at the time of the murder and the pair did not leave for London until 10th May when the child was already two and a half weeks old. The body of the child was dumped at Saint Pancras station and found by a workman tied up in a package, the poor thing was stated to have been beaten and poisoned. In the event Rainbow was reprieved on 23rd August but Dilley was hanged by executioner William Marwood at Newgate Prison two days later.

Censuses reveal that James Dilley's wife was called Mary and, in 1871, the couple were living at Campton Turn. They had three children as the 1881 census shows: George C. then a grocer and ironmonger aged 18 and William H., aged 11 and Frederick J., aged 5. The 1881 census shows that Mary's younger sister, Sarah E.Croft, a 33 year old laundress has gone to live with her. Mary A.Dilley does not appear on the 1891 census.

Mary Rainbow came from Lower Stondon, on the 1861 census she was a 12 year old, at school and living with her parents, James and Sarah. The 1881 census shows that she was still in prison, as might be imagined, at "H.M. Fem[ale] Convict Prison, London District of Fulham". However, by the 1891 census Mary Rainbow was out and, remarkably, back home, working as a domestic servant at Mayfield Farm, Lower Stondon. The 1901 census shows her working for the same family, the Russells, at Chibley Farm, Shillington. Shillington parish registers show that she died at the end of 1934, aged 83 and was buried in Shillington churchyard on New Year's Day 1935.