5 March 1817 – Elizabeth Fricker

Social reformer Elizabeth Fry took a personal interest in the case of her namesake, petty thief Elizabeth Fricker.

Fry intervened when Fricker was awarded the death penalty and tried to get it overturned asserting that death was too harsh a sentence for theft.

For widowed Fricker had been found guilty of stealing £400 worth of silverware from her boss.

One night in July there was a break-in at the Ashworth’s house in Berner Street, Marylebone where she worked as a maid. A whole stash of silverware was nicked.

Fricker says

Fricker asserted that the robbers had gained access to the house through a window. Yet her story didn’t stack up, and she’d been acting strangely, observed the cook.

It turned out that she was in cahoots with her boyfriend, William Kelly. Kelly’s dad then asked someone to store a trunk for a few days. Hannah Compton did so until, a few days later, another woman came knocking for it. Compton got suspicious and refused, instead going to the police. The truck was prized open and the silverware was revealed. So Fricker, her boyfriend Kelly and his dad were hauled in for questioning and eventually charged.

Just desserts?

She denied the accusations, but had little defence. So the trio were found guilty. Fricker and Kelly got the death penalty and Kelly’s father got a 14-year deportation.

That’s when Elizabeth Fry stepped in. She visited Fricker in jail and took her case on, exposing it in the newspapers as being too harsh a sentence for theft.

But the Lord Chancellor just ignored the plea. The two of them were led from Debtors’ Door in Newgate, alongside six other men, to be hanged by John Langley, the executioner of the day.

Also on this day

5 March 1945 – Lena Baker
5 March 1993 – Robert Sawyer

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