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The Trial, Confession, and Execution
of John Swan and Elizabeth Jeffryes



On Tuesday, March 10th, 1752, at the Assizes at Chelmsford, a bill of indictment was found by the Grand Jury for petit treason, against John Swan, for the cruel and wicked murder of his late master, Mr Joseph Jeffryes, of Walthamstow, in the county of Essex, and against Elizabeth Jeffryes, spinster, niece of the deceased, for being, aiding, helping, abetting, assisting, comforting, and maintaining him, the said John Swan, to commit the said murder.—GUILTY DEATH.


On Thursday, the day after her conviction, Miss Jeffryes made a confession, that what Mathews had swore was true, except that part of his being in the house at the time the pistol went off. And that she had had this murder in her thoughts for two years past, but never had a proper opportunity of getting it executed before, till she engaged Swan, and together with Swan, she offered Mathews money to execute it, who agreed to do it; that upon the night the murder was committed, it was agreed between Swan and her, that they should both go up to their chambers, as if they were going to bed, and as soon as the maid had locked her door, and was supposed to be in bed, Miss Jeffryes came out of her own room and went to Swan's, and said, "Holloh! are you awake?" he answered, "Yes," and he was not undressed; then she went into her uncle's room to see if he was asleep, and took a silver tankard, a silver cup, and some silver spoons, from off a chest of drawers in the deceased's room; then she and Swan went down stairs, and Swan took out a new sack from under the stairs, and she and Swan put the plate, and some pewter and brass which they took off the shelves in the kitchen, into the sack, till she said, I can do no more. Swan and she then drank each a large dram of brandy; then she went upstairs into her own chamber, where it was agreed she should undress herself, and lie till a signal was given by a knock at her door or wainscot, that her uncle was murder'd, then she was to open her window, and cry out, "Diaper! fire and thieves," to alarm the neighbourhood. She farther says, she accidentally fell asleep as soon almost as in bed; but on a sudden was waked by some noise in a fright, when she laid and listen'd, and heard a violent breathing or gasping, as if somebody was under a difficulty in drawing their breath; then she concluded her uncle was murder'd; and then open'd her window, and made the agreed alarm; directly after which she came down stairs, and Swan let her out of the street door in her shift, when she ran to Mrs Diaper's door, in the same court-yard; Swan then shut the street-door, and as soon as he heard the neighbours were coming, and thought a sufficient alarm was made, he opened the street-door again in his shirt, and run out as if he was just come out of bed in a fright. She further says, that previous to the excuting this diabolical design, they had taken care to cut the wire of the bell on the outside, which went from the master's to the maid's room, to prevent his calling the maid.

Swan says that he did not do the murder, but that Mathews, who came in at the garden gate, which Swan left open for that purpose, actually did, with one of the deceased's pistols, which was hanging up in the kitchen; and Swan cut a bullet, which he took out of a draw in the kitchen to make it fit the pistol. And he is implacable against Miss Jeffryes for having made any confession of this melancholy and wicked affair.

On Saturday, March 14th, they received sentence of death; and while the judge was making a moving and pathetic speech before the sentence, Miss Jeffryes fainted away several times, and at last recovered herself, pray'd for as long a time as possible to prepare herself for a future state.


On the 28th, Swan and Jeffryes were executed on Epping-Forest, near the six milestone in the parish of Walthamstow. Swan was drawn on a sledge, and Miss Jeffryes in a cart, in the midst of the greatest concourse of people of all ranks and conditions, in coaches, &c., on horseback and a-foot, that ever had been seen in the memory of man. At the place of execution Swan was put into the same cart with Miss Jeffryes, She acknowledged to a gentleman, one of the jury, there present, "That her sentence was just." But, being asked whether Mathews was in the house at the time the murder was committed, she said, "She believed he was not." She also added that she died in charity with all the world. Swan also confessed to the same gentleman, "That he committed the murder." And that he believed Mathews was not in the house at the time of the committing the murder, but that be had been there just before. It was observed that these criminals did not so much as speak, touch, or look at one another, during the whole time they were in the cart. Miss Jeffryes fainted when the halter was tied up; and again when placed on a chair (she being short) for the better conveniency of drawing away the cart. Miss Jeffrye's (sic) body was carried away in a hearse to be interred. Swan's body was immediately after cut down, and hung in chains on the same gibbet.

SOURCE: Curiosities of Street Literature, London, Reeves and Turner, 196, Strand, 1871.