Was wrong man hanged, or was confession in New Orleans
just a hoax?
In 1890 the
tiny villages of Alpraham and Tilstone, near Tarporley, became the
centre of a sensational murder mystery
the details of which
have only recently been unearthed.
Our story begins
in 1857, on the Tilstone Lodge estate of Edward Corbett Esq. In
the early hours of April 17th, Corbetts gamekeeper, John Bebbington,
rose from his bed to make his rounds of the woods and pheasant preserves.
Nothing was heard of him again and later he was found lying dead
in a ditch, with his loaded gun beside him.
In an adjacent field the police discovered two sets of footprints
one belonging to the gamekeeper and the other set they traced
to John Blagg, 47, a shoemaker and poacher.
At Blaggs home they found a gun and cartridges matching the
one that shot Bebbington. They also found the boots that had made
Blagg had previously threatened the gamekeeper and despite his protestations
he was charged with murder.
His counsel argued that all the evidence was circumstantial. The
poor man is a victim of hatred because he was a poacher; and as
the prosecution could not get hold the real murderer, they pounced
on the prisoner because he happened, unfortunately, to be disliked
by a Cheshire country gentleman.
After a trial lasting 10 hours Blagg was found guilty and sentenced
to be hanged. Petitions to the Home Secretary proved fruitless.
Blaggs wife and children visited him at Chester Castle and
to the end he said it was all a parcel of lies. They were
my boots but not worn by me.
Blagg was hanged and there the matter lay until over 30 years later
when a Liverpool merchant, James Sawers, from Neston, paid a visit
to New Orleans, and there received news of a startling confession
made to the Rector of St Pauls, New Orleans. It concerned
the murder of John Bebbington.
The story, from Henry Edwin Jones, was that Blagg had been getting
ready to attend Chester market on the day before the murder and
had loaned him a pair of boots. It was he, Jones, who had murdered
Jones said he had been educated at the Kings School, Chester,
but Mr Sawers maintained that the confession was all a hoax.
However, journalists who checked the story found him in possession
of many startling minor recollections which suggested he must have
had been implicated.
When Jones made his confession in 1890 a journalist visited Blaggs
widow who still lived in Alpraham.
On the night before the murder she said that Jones, who was known
to her husband, had called at the cottage. He had borrowed the boots,
but she could not say how or when they were returned, between the
murder and the police searching the cottage.
She said the police had spoken with Jones but had let him go. They
had it in for her husband.
The landlord of the local pub also remembered Jones who worked as
a wheelwright in the Potteries and occasionally called in for a
We shall never know whether the wrong man was hanged and, in the
end, the authorities did not take Jones confession seriously.
The last, tantalising, words went to Blaggs widow:
He said if he disclosed everything that he knew he would be
transported for life, and he would prefer instant death to that.
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