The 19th century was an interesting time in human history. We were on the cusp of technological superiority, leaving behind many preconceived notions, yet we were still in the dark ages when it came to some subjects, like ghosts and the supernatural.
For instance, take the case of the Hammersmith Ghost. Hammersmith was a village that is now part of London proper. For nearly two months, the village of Hammersmith had been plagued by a "ghost". The "ghost" was violent, assaulting men and women, both physically, and through intimidation. For weeks it managed to evade detection.
Francis Smith, an excise tax collector, went on a hunt for the ghost with the help of the village night-watchman William Girdler. Unfortunately for Smith, when he managed to catch up to the ghost, he shot and killed it. Though as you likely guessed, it was not a real ghost, but a man dressed up as one. The ghost that Smith had mistakenly murdered turned out to be Thomas Millwood, a local resident.
This case was going to confuse British courts for months to come.
Ann Millwood, the sister of Thomas, took the stand during the trial. When asked if she had heard reports of this ghost, she replied yes and described it as such;
“Yes, I heard great talk of it,” Millwood explained, “that sometimes it appeared in a white sheet, and sometimes in a calf-skin dress, with horns on its head, and glass eyes.”
The stories got wilder from there, even saying the ghost took the shape of Napoleon Bonaparte, that its eyes glowed, and that it could even breath fire. It's safe to say that 19th century England had its fair share of superstition.
Thomas Millwood was a bricklayer who was always seen in a white jacket, white pants, and a white apron. Seen at night walking the streets of Hammersmith, you can somewhat understand why he was mistaken for ghost, especially given the tidal wave of rumors sweeping over the village.
A week after the murder, Smith was tried in London. The jury deliberated for only 45 minutes before returning with a verdict of manslaughter. The three judges overseeing the case rejected this decision, stating;
“The Court have no hesitation whatever with regard to the law,” Justice Rooke exclaimed, “and therefore the verdict must be—‘Guilty of Murder’ or ‘a total acquittal from want to evidence.’” It would need to either be guilty of murder or acquitted of all charges. He was quickly found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang the following week.
Lucky for Smith, his sentence was sent before the King who delayed the execution, and eventually granted Smith a full pardon.
What do you think, was Smith guilty of murder?