England · Executions · Newspaper clippings

Teen executed for robbery/murder of friend (1831)

August 1, 1831
Maidstone, Kent, England
14-year-old John Any Bird Bell (alt. spelling: Amy Bird) is hanged for slicing the neck of his 13-year-old friend

Bell murdered 13-year-old Richard F. Taylor to steal his money on March 4, 1831. Taylor’s body went undiscovered until May 11. John’s 10-year-old brother James had accompanied him during the murder and provided evidence against John, detailing the events of the crime. He stated Taylor was lured into the woods by John under the pretense of taking a shortcut. When Taylor believed himself to be lost in the woods, he laid on the ground and cried, whereupon John cut Taylor’s throat, who made a noise “as a rabbit squeaks” once before dying. John was found guilty and reportedly did not show any emotion when given the death penalty set to be carried out within a few days, “until the dissection of his body was mentioned, and then he dropped a solitary tear.” (At the time, dissection of a body was taboo, and was generally reserved for murderers, being seen as a punishment worse than death alone.)

Bell’s execution brought a large number of people to witness his hanging, with various sources claiming “no less than eight thousand” to “at least ten thousand persons”. Bell’s stoic demeanor transformed as his death approached, as he reportedly “wept bitterly” in his cell and, as his mother visited him the eve of his execution, he blamed her for his “present scrape.” Bell’s final words were a prayer for God to have mercy on his soul. Then, as The Hull Packet (Aug. 16, 1831) reported, at “the appointed signal, the bolt was withdrawn, and in a minute or two the wretched malefactor ceased to exist.”

The article shown is from The Times (London, England), published before the execution on July 30, 1831. The article reads:

The Murder Near Rochester

We last week gave a detail of the examination respecting this horrid deed up to Monday evening. On Tuesday the examination was resumed. James Bell, the brother of the accused, aged 10 years, was examined, and stayed, that knowing what the deceased was going to Aylesford for, they determined to murder him. This intention they were about to carry into effect several times, but were frustrated. At last it was completed by John Bell alone, and the younger lad returned home, and afterwards received 1s. 6d. [1 shilling sixpence] of the money. The examination being concluded, the elder boy, John Any Bird Bell, aged 14, was fully committed for trail for the murder, and his brother James was committed as a material witness, conditionally admitted on the part of the Crown. They were taken to Maidstone gaol on Wednesday. On the journey, the prisoner John pointed out to the officer the pool where he had washed his hands after committing the crime, and also pointed out the opening leading to the spot, saying “That’s the spot where I killed the poor boy. He’s better off than me; don’t you think he is, Sir?” He said, that when he and deceased went into the wood, he told him that he had lost himself; on which deceased said he did not know the way out, and laid himself down, and began to cry. Bell immediately sprang at him, and cut his throat, and with some difficulty took the bag containing the money from his hand. The bag contained three half-crowns, one shilling, and sixpence [approx. £15.74 or $20.79 in the modern economy]. Bell said he knew he should be hanged, and wished his brother might see him executed, as a warning to him. He also said the knife and glove would be found in the deceased’ pocket, if the body was taken up; where they were found, as stated in our last. His confession was spontaneous, and, as he said, from a desire to tell the truth, knowing that he must suffer; that he had no occasion for items [possibly], as he had no wish to escape justice. — Maidstone Journal

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