OMG. I’ve had John Aylward on in the background most of the morning. I quite like these Murderer in the Family (or whatever they are called) ones.

Pretty low key and “for entertainment purposes only” maybe but sometimes interesting.

This one about Christina Collins came on and my brain cell went AHA! that sounds very familiar.

Far too much like Colin Dexter’s The Wench is Dead.

So I searched and found…

Colin Dexter based the novel on the 1839 murder of 37-year-old Christina Collins as she travelled the Trent and Mersey Canal at RugeleyStaffordshire, on the Staffordshire Knot en route to London.[1] Of the four crewmen, captain James Owen and boatman George Thomas were hanged for the murder by William Calcraft and assistant George Smith, while boatman William Ellis was transported for his involvement (following a last minute reprieve from his death sentence), and cabin boy William Muston was not charged.[1] The evidence was largely circumstantial; the three accused were drunk at the time of the woman’s death, numerous witnesses attested to Collins being distressed as the men used sexually explicit language towards her, and all four men (including the cabin boy) were seen to have lied in court in an attempt to pin the blame on each other and to escape punishment.[1] The three accused stated that Collins jumped into the canal of her own accord and drowned, despite the fact that the water at the particular section of the canal was less than four feet in depth.[1] Alan Hayhurst, author of the 2008 book Staffordshire Murders, states that “this author does not agree with Mr Dexter’s conclusions!”[1]

According to the dedication to the novel, it was Harry Judge, a “lover of canals”, who introduced Dexter to the small book The Murder of Christina Collins by John Godwin, a local historian and former headteacher in Rugeley. The booklet gives many details of Christina’s early life and the criminal trial that followed her murder.

Much of the research for the novel was carried out at the William Salt Library in Stafford. Dexter recalls that he spent “a good many fruitful hours in the library” consulting contemporary newspaper reports of Christina’s murder.[2]

The novel’s framing device, of a detective solving an historical murder while laid up in hospital, was most famously used by the mystery novelist Josephine Tey in her 1951 novel, The Daughter of Time – in that case, the murder of the Princes in the Tower


Ah, see! Never forget a bloody good book :o)

Dexter’s fictional conclusion is brilliant and makes me wonder if other historic miscarriages of justice could have involved similar shenanigans.