THE CASE OF JOHN TAWELL

By Tim Lambert

John Tawell is famous because he was the first murderer caught with the aid of a new invention- the telegraph. John Tawell was born in Norfolk in 1784. Tawell became a Quaker, though he obviously failed to live up to their moral teachings. About 1804 Tawell moved to London. However in 1814 he was convicted of forging a 10 note, which was a capital offence. However the sentence was commuted to transportation. John Tawell was duly transported to Australia. He was given his freedom in 1820 but he chose to stay in Australia until 1831 when he returned to England. Tawell had 2 children by a woman named Sarah Hart.

John Tawell eventually decided to remove this financial burden by poisoning Sarah. Tawell was suffering from varicose veins and he used prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) as a remedy. He also used it to kill Sarah. On 1 January 1845 he caught the train from London to Slough to see Sarah. That afternoon a neighbour called Mary Ann Ashley heard a scream from Sarah's house. She went to investigate and she saw John Tawell leaving the house. Ashley entered Sarah's house and found the woman seriously ill. By the time a doctor arrived Sarah was dead. The police were alerted and Ashley told them she saw a man dressed as a Quaker leave the house. (Quakers then wore distinctive dress). A clergyman named Edward Champneys realised that the murderer would try to leave the area as soon as possible. He hurried to Slough railway station where he saw a man in Quaker dress board a train for Paddington, London. The station master was informed and he sent a telegraph message to Paddington. (There was no code for the letter 'Q' at that time so the message said the murderer was dressed in 'Kwaker' garb).

When he arrived at Paddington the police followed Tawell but they did not arrest him till the next day. Tawell went on trial for murder on 12 March 1845 at Aylesbury. He was found guilty and he was sentenced to death. John Tawell was hanged in public in Aylesbury on 28 March 1845. A large crowd went to see the execution.

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