Suffolk Museum May Return Murderer's Grisly Remains To Relative

By Graham Spicer | 21 February 2007
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photo of an old leather bound book

An account of the trial was bound in Corder's skin. Photo courtesy Edmundsbury Borough Council

The relative of an infamous 19th century murderer is campaigning to get a museum to return a gruesome book bound in the felon’s skin.

Linda Nessworthy, a descendant of ‘Red Barn murderer’ William Corder, is asking St Edmundsbury Borough Council to return the book, along with Corder’s scalp and ear, which are popular exhibits in the Crime and Punishment display at the local Moyse’s Hall Museum.

Corder was hung in Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk in 1828 for the murder of his lover Maria Marten at the Red Barn in nearby Polstead.

photo of a shriveled scalp with visible ear on the side

Corder's scalp and ear, currently on display at Moyse's Hall Museum. Photo courtesy Edmundsbury Borough Council

A spokesperson for Edmundsbury Borough Council said the council would be investigating the claim:

“Our (council) cabinet has set up a panel who will be looking at the case for the return. The meeting has not been set yet but will probably be in March,” she said. “We have to check that she has the strongest claim by finding out that she is the closest relative to William Corder.”

The panel will consist of three members of the local council.

Ms Nessworthy, who is related to the murderer by marriage on her mother's side, has previously been successful in persuading London’s Hunterian Museum to release Corder’s skeleton, which was subsequently cremated. It is believed Ms Nessworthy will destroy the remains if she is successful in having them returned.

The museum has several other artefacts relating to the murder which will stay in their collection whatever the outcome, such as a cast of Corder’s macabre death mask and items from the murder scene.

photo of a cast of a human head

A copy of Corder's death cast. Photo courtesy Edmundsbury Borough Council

Although Corder pleaded not guilty at the trial, shortly before his execution he confessed to the murder, saying that he shot Marten after an argument over the burial of an illegitimate child they had had which had died young.

The case attracted huge press interest and thousands attended his execution. As was common for murders at the time, the body was then handed over to a surgeon to be dissected.

The surgeon, George Creed, removed the skeleton, kept and preserved the scalp with the right ear attached, and removed part of his skin which he then tanned to make a leather cover for a book recounting the trial. The grisly items were kept at the old West Suffolk Hospital before being given to the Museum around the time it opened in 1899.

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