O is for O’Connor

Patrick O’Connor was the victim in the notorious case of the Mannings, husband and wife. Maria Manning was a Swiss who had been a lady’s maid. She married Frederick Manning in 1847, and she had chosen him over Patrick O’Connor who was a wealthy man – not a particularly savoury character – who had made a good deal of money as a loan shark. Frederick Manning had promised her that he was to inherit money – he did not and Maria kept up her relationship with O’Connor. She wanted his money and the only way to get it was to murder him.

She invited Patrick O’ Connor for dinner – for roast goose. However, while he was washing his hands at the kitchen sink, she shot him and Frederick Manning finished him off with a ripping chisel – a crow bar, horribly. They buried him in a hole they’d dug in the kitchen floor and applied a liberal dose of quick lime which was thought to hasten the decay of the corpse.

Then, according, to the sensational accounts in the papers, they sat down and ate the goose.

Maria stole O’Connor’s money and papers from his lodgings. She went off to Edinburgh and Frederick to Jersey. However, O’Connor was reported missing and it was found out that he had visited the Mannings before his disappearance. Their house in Miniver Place was searched and a sharp-eyed policeman saw the damp mortar in the kitchen. O’ Connor’s body was found and the hunt was on. Maria was traced to Edinburgh where she had already been arrested for trying to sell O’Connor’s share certificates. Frederick was traced to Jersey. Their goose was well and truly cooked.

They were tried, found guilty and hanged at Horsemonger Gaol on November 13th, 1849. Dickens attended the hanging as did a crowd of more than 30,000. He was appalled at the behaviour of the crowd and wrote to The Times protesting about the wickedness and levity of the crowd. He wrote that ‘it was like living in a city of devils’.  He campaigned for private executions, though in principle he was against hanging at this time. Nevertheless, despite his revulsion for the whole business Mrs Manning was the inspiration for the murderess, Hortense, in Bleak House. Horrified but fascinated – he declared that he was haunted by the sight of the two bodies swinging from their nooses.

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