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« The Barnes Mystery »

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On the 22nd of October 2010, workmen excavating the concrete in the place between the former Mayfield Cottages and the” Hole in the Wall “pub, came across a human skull. Carbon dating carried out at the University of Edinburgh dated the skull to between 1650 and 1880.  Identification through DNA was impossible but the skull did showcase fracture marks consistent with those of being thrown down the stairs. In addition to that, tests have shown low collagen levels consistent with being boiled.  This discovery was a huge outbreak because 131 years later the’ Barnes mystery’ was finally solved.

You might be wondering what ‘the Barnes Mystery’ is. Well, it’s the dubbing the press chose for the murder of Julia Martha Thomas. The atrocity of the crime made this case amass wide media coverage and it was labeled one of the most notorious crimes in the Victorian period in the United Kingdom.

 This case takes us back to the Victorian era, exactly to 1879. Back then, everyone was obsessed with wealth and status and July Thomas was no exception. In fact, she was a middle-class widow but she has never been gratified with that fact. She wanted to climb the social ladder. That’s why she lathered herself in expensive dresses and jewelry to give the impression of prosperity.

July Thomas was a widow, in her mid-fifties, who lived alone in her 2 Mayfield Cottages. She didn’t really need a housekeeper but she was hoping that by employing one she would have a higher social status. Having inherited her late husband’s wealth, she most definitely had the resources to do as she pleased.

A friend of Mrs. Thomas, whose maid was on sick leave, hired a temporary housekeeper named Kate to fill in to cover the shortage of staff at her property. Once her tasks were cleared, she recommended this housekeeper to Mrs. Thomas and that’s how the latter ended up hiring Kate as her maid.

Kate Webster, born Catherine Lawler in 1849 in Enniscorthy, spent her childhood in the rural areas of Ireland. From an early age, she had a tainted reputation of being a thief and a troublemaker. As she grew up, she found herself living in a poverty-stricken area, with no hope of finding employment. That’s why she moved to England to find a job. However, finding a job wasn’t an easy task so, she reverted back to her old habits and began stealing once again. Ultimately she was caught and she was in and out of prison for theft and larceny.

Mrs. Thomas didn’t know that Catherine was a repeated offender and an ex-convict, even with that, her relationship with Catherine was bad from the get-go and it deteriorated even further as time went on. On one hand, Mrs. Thomas wasn’t the easiest person to work for. She was very critical and obsessed with cleanliness. She would go around inspecting Catherine’s work and point out what she left out or the chores she didn’t complete thoroughly, which left Catherine feeling distasteful. On the other hand, Catherine was extremely temperamental and she had an unpredictable behavior which made Mrs. Thomas utterly terrified of her. Catherine also took the habit of frequenting local bars in the night and she would return late and completely drunk.

Mrs. Thomas couldn’t tolerate her behavior any further so she decided to dismiss her after only a month since she took the job. They agreed that her last day of service would be the 28th of February 1879. That day happened to be a Friday and Catherine knew that she couldn’t find another job on the weekend which meant that she would be rendered homeless. She begged her mistress to let her stay for couple more days, at least until the 2nd of March, so she would at least find somewhere else to stay. On the 2nd of March, which happened to be Sunday, Mrs. Thomas had the habit of going to the church. Catherine was supposed to assist her in getting ready. Then she was expected to pack her belongings and evacuate the premises but she went to the pub instead. Later on, she came back drunk in broad daylight.  Mrs. Thomas was not happy with that and a heated argument broke between the two.

To cool off, Mrs. Thomas left to join the service at the church. Witnesses who saw her there later reported that she came late and that she seemed unsettled and agitated.

When she went back to the cottage, they fought once again. Catherine was blinded by anger. In a fit of rage, she pushed Mrs. Thomas down the stairs. Anxious that her mistress would start screaming, thus alerting the neighbors of the incident that just occurred, Catherine ran down the stairs and strangled Mrs. Thomas until she passed away.

Catherine panicked at first. She didn’t want to go back to prison so she thought of a scheme that would allow her to walk unscathed from this. Mrs. Thomas was known to go away at times and she wouldn’t usually keep in touch with her family and friends when she does. So Catherine planned to keep a facade; she would keep pretending to be Mrs. Thomas’ housekeeper and if anyone grew suspicious of her mistress’s absence she would tell them that Mrs. Thomas was away on one of her trips.

In the meantime, Catherine cut up Mrs. Thomas body parts. She wanted to disfigure the body to the point where it couldn’t be identified if ever found. She proceeded to mutilate the body and disembowel it. Later, she burned some of the body parts and put the rest in a copper pot filled with water to boil them. Once it started to boil, the fat started to separate from the flesh. Catherine, then, separated the fat from the water and put it into jars. As for the body parts, she wrapped them in brown paper.

As of that day, Catherine started going around selling the jars to her neighbors claiming it was pork fat. Every time she got out of the house to run some errands, she would take some of the body parts and she would dispose of them in the Thames River except the head. She buried it in the barns of the pub she used to frequent.

She was also running low on money so she decided to impersonate Mrs. Thomas in order to sell her belongings. She would wear her mistress’s dresses and jewelry and visit tradesmen and brokers trying to sell Mrs. Thomas’s belongings and furniture.

In the meantime, some of the body parts have washed up and upon verification, it was disclosed that they belonged to the same person. Neighbors have also grown suspicious of Catherine’s eerie behavior and of the fact that they haven’t seen Mrs. Thomas in a while. That’s why they reported her to the police. The Police found an ax in the cottage and they found the copper pot that was still covered in fat.  They also found shards of human bones scattered around the house. They have asked around as well and noted people’s wariness of Catherine’s leery conduct.

Catherine fled to Ireland when she knew the police were onto her, but they tracked her down and she was arrested on the 28th of March. At her arrest, she was found wearing Mrs. Thomas’s clothes and she was then brought back to London to be tried for murder.

Catherine pleaded not guilty. Her defense argued that the evidence against her was substantial. They backed up their claims with the fact that Mrs. Thomas’ head hasn’t been found which meant that the body parts couldn’t be confirmed to be those of Mrs. Thomas.

The Trial lasted 6 days and Catherine was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Catherine tried to appeal her sentence by pleading pregnant. However, after being examined, it was revealed that her claims were false, so they proceeded with her original sentencing.

On the eve of her execution, she confessed and gave away all the details about how things have escalated on that eventful day.

Catherine Webster was hanged on the 28th of July, 1879.

The head wasn’t found back then. It was presumed that maybe it was thrown in the Thames River as well and that it was drifted away by the currents.

The case has garnered so much attention from the public and media. It seemed unfathomable for them that a woman was capable of committing such a heinous crime. The crown prince of Sweden, himself, attended the trial and Madame Tussauds started producing a waxwork of Catherine to be displayed in the chambers of horrors before even the trial has taken place.

Written by: Sarra Barnoussi and Razki Wassim.

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A letter for me

Cher inconnu

Linda Ghazouani

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Dans un monde meilleur où l’existence physique n’existe pas, où l’âme est visible, les sentiments sont purs, ressentis, et même les idées les plus complexes sont comprises, j’écris pour toi mon cher étranger tout ce que je n’ai jamais osé avouer. C’était une nuit douce et silencieuse. On était seuls et on était libres.

Loin de toute voix qui nous empêchait d’être nous-mêmes. Loin de ce monde qui ne cessait de nous accaparer le souffle. Loin des attentes, de l’hypocrisie, et de la méchanceté gratuite, loin de ce monde. Je ne te connais pas, je t’écris tout en sachant que je n’aurai jamais une réponse de ta part, et pourtant cela me rassure. Je t’écris ces petits mots pour partager avec toi une partie de moi que j’ai toujours gardé cachée, me vois-tu alors ? Moi aussi, j’ai peur de l’inconnu, mais pas de toi cher inconnu, bien au contraire, toi tu es ma liberté.

Je n’ai jamais su comment me présenter. J’avais l’habitude de prononcer un prénom que je n’ai jamais choisi pour faire l’affaire et je pensais que ceci était suffisant. Ça n’a jamais été le cas, n’est-ce pas ? D’ailleurs, cher étranger, je n’ai jamais compris ce phénomène de vouloir résumer tout un être complexe en quelques mots. Quelle partie de moi devrais-je choisir pour la montrer aux autres ?

Mon Cher Étranger, je t’avouerais en premier lieu que je suis quelqu’un d’observateur, et que je passe la moitié de mes journées à penser et mes nuits à écrire. Voyez-vous cher étranger, je me réveille chaque jour en espérant voir un monde nouveau et meilleur, pour au final faire face à la triste réalité que ce monde dans lequel nous vivons manque de vie.

J’aimerais tant faire remonter le temps, pour pouvoir trouver cette chaleur qui manque, pour pouvoir savourer la vie encore une fois et profiter de chaque petit détail. J’aimerais tant faire remonter le temps, pour pouvoir encore une fois croire en la bonté des Hommes, la noblesse de l’humanité et la beauté du futur. J’essaies chaque jour de suivre les pas de Dieu, de négliger tout ce mal qui nous entoure.

Parfois, j’essaies de le justifier et de lui donner un sens. Ce monde est si vaste et spacieux au point que je ne cesse de le remplir avec mes innombrables rêves et souhaits. Maintenant, j’ai l’impression qu’aucun espace ne me suffira amplement…

J’aimerais tant recroiser la rue, tout en souriant à cet étranger en face de moi, faire voler mon cerf-volant aussi haut que mes attentes, regarder le ciel pendant des heures, marcher sous la pluie, rencontrer cet ancien ami avec qui je riais de tout et de rien, laisser court à ma propre imagination et tomber amoureuse encore une fois de l’art, de l’expression de soi, de la musique et donner un rythme à cette vie monotone, danser, danser jusqu’au lever de soleil , laisser ses rayons réchauffer ma peau, et sentir l’air frais jouer avec mes cheveux, courir après mes rêves pour au final rendre cette vie, encore une fois, magique.

Moi ? J’adore les nuits. Tout me semble calme, mystérieux. J’adore regarder les étoiles, et rêver qu’un jour peut-être, je pourrai les toucher, d’imaginer que quelque chose se cache derrière, que ces petits points lumineux sont ceux que j’ai rencontré pendant ce long chemin appelé la vie, et qui ont fini par me quitter. J’adore le fait que lorsque je m’allonge et que je fixe des yeux le ciel, j’ai ce sentiment de flotter dans l’espace.

D’ailleurs mon cher étranger, tu devras essayer cette habitude que je garde depuis mon enfance. Il me suffit de fermer les yeux pour voir tous ces différents souvenirs défiler dans ma tête. Je me souviens de chaque personne qui, un jour, a croisé mon chemin comme si je viens tout juste de la croiser, et cela me rend nostalgique. Je fuis souvent tout ce qui me semble inconfortable, et donc je me fuis moi-même.

La vulnérabilité m’attire. La sensibilité m’attire. Dans un monde où l’on confond nature humaine et faiblesse, oser être transparent est un art. Et je t’assure que le fait que ceux qui m’entourent ne savourent pas la vie de la même façon que moi me perturbe.

Je me confie à toi alors, Cher Inconnu, parce qu’un étranger ami est meilleur qu’un ami étranger.

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