The book on Smethurst was hard work; following up the angles, driving to Chester to find one short line in a baptismal register, worrying about making howlers with the chemistry and toxicology and endless iterations weeding out typos and other errors.
One possibility for a new book, very much in a similar vein, is the story of Maria Marten. I came across her history many years ago when I was living in Wivenhoe in Essex. My housemate Sarah had been helping in a house clearance, and found an old book she thought I might be interested in. It was the sad tale of Maria Martin of Polstead. She was the mole-catchers daughter, and having been impregnated by the squire’s son, William Corder, she was found murdered and buried in the Red Barn. Corder disappeared, but was tracked down and arrested in Ealing. He was tried for murder, found guilty and hanged at Bury St Edmunds in 1828.
There were a number of mysteries associated with the case, not the least of which was that the Red Barn was searched after Maria’s stepmother, who was not much older than Maria herself, dreamed that Maria, who had disappeared, had been murdered and buried there.
The story was headline news and eventually spawned the Victorian melodrama “Murder in the Red Barn”.
Several books have been written about the case, and there are various conspiracy theories to explain how it was that Maria’s stepmother’s ‘dreams’ led to Maria’s discovery. It may be though, that as with the Smethurst case, modern genealogical methods can uncover new information.
The story has always had resonance for me; my PhD supervisor at Essex University lived in Polstead, and I grew up in Ealing. Watch this space.