Sarah Malcolm was the last person society expected to come face to face with the hangman’s noose on this day in 1733.
Born into a middle-class family in Durham, she was the epitome of respectability. However, resentful Malcolm was forced to earn her crust after her dad wasted the family fortune away. So she transferred down to London to make a living.
Brush with the law
Things were going ok, until she got in with a bad lot during a stint at the Black Horse pub near Temple Bar. That’s when she moved to the Inns of Court and did the laundry for people who lived above the courts. This flung her in the path of wealthy individuals, one of whom was the elderly Lydia Duncomb, who also employed two servants, Elizabeth Harrison and a young maid called Ann Price.
Tied to the apron strings
Malcolm hooked up with the likes of Martha Tracey and a duo known only as the Alexander brothers (one of whom she was going out with and wanted to marry). The four of them decided to target the elderly woman and, as a result, Duncombe was strangled along with Harrison, who may have been killed by her own apron strings. Price, on the other hand, was stabbed in the neck with a knife.
The murders were discovered after a friend came over the following morning. Besides, a neighbour had caught Malcolm in his room and he immediately became suspicious.
It wasn’t long before the police came a knocking and found loads of incriminating evidence, including bloodied clothes. Of course she passed them off, putting the blood down to being her time of the month, but the policemen just weren’t buying it. As she was carted off and put in jail, the jailer found a wadge of money stuffed down her front. Malcolm obviously knew it looked bad, so tried to bribe the warder with it. But he refused and grassed her up instead.
The stuff against her was banking up and where were her co-conspirators when she needed them? Lack of evidence meant that they were never hauled up for their crimes. Instead Malcolm carried the entire can, despite her entreaties that she had just played look-out while the others carried out the crimes. Nevertheless, she was accused of the murders plus the thievery and the jury took a mere 15 minutes to deliver a guilty verdict.
From the day of her crime to execution took just over a month. There was no hanging around in those days, at least not for the law makers. For Malcolm, however, that’s all she had left to do. She was taken to Newgate’s gallows, which had been erected in Fleet Street in her honour, where she was hanged by John Cooper.