Friday, 11 July 2008

Murder & Crime Series - Medway - by Janet Cameron

Murder in Medway
by Jenna Pudelek from Kent on Sunday w/e 15 June, 2008

Author uncovers tales from the dark underbelly of area's history.

Scheming temptresses, highwaymen, smugglers and the brutal murder of a young mother are just some of the dark deeds from Medway's past, uncovered in a new book.

Janet Cameron's Murder and Crime Series, Medway, explains numerous crimes and wrongdoings that feature in the rich history of the northern Kent around Chatham and Rochester. She said, 'I'm interested in anything dramatic because I'm a fiction writer so I'm fascinated by all human behaviour. I also think you have to look at the dark side rather than just focusing on all the good things. It makes life so much richer somehow.'

As well as regaling the reader with gory tales of murder, the author also reminds us of horrors of early prisons and corporal punishment, with children as young as seven hanged for theft.

Asked what was most striking while researching the book, Ms Cameron, who used to live in Bexleyheath before moving to East Sussex, said, 'I think the way the law has changed. You could get deported or hanged for things that later were not even really a crime. Some of the things people got away with as well, for example, cruelty to their children. It tells us something about ourselves then and now.'

Before 1834, the book states, the bodies of hanged prisoners would often be stripped and dipped in tar - they were then put in an iron cage and hung in a prominent place to act as a warning to people. Ms Cameron said, 'Sometimes the bodies remained until they decomposed or were eaten by birds.'

Another gruesome tale is the murder of Grace Holgate, a pregnant mother-of-one by her husband, Joseph, in 1894. Holgate beat her after a row over household accounts - even after she managed to escape to her stepfather's house he chased her and contued choking her until eventually he was prised away.

Later in the evening the 28-year-old suffered an epileptic fit, gave birth to a stillborn son and died.

Ms Cameron thinks the most interesting story in the book is that of Chatham-born Richard Dadd, a Victorian artist, who is famed for his paintings of faires and other supernatural subjects.

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