This is the first installment of what will (hopefully) be a regular series on crime and punishment in the 18th century. Our modern media often tends to sensationalize—but this is not strictly a modern phenomenon. Early editions of The Gentleman’s Magazine often featured similar stories, plus regular accounts of scandals, bizarre trials and even executions.
Our first installment is the sad account of a robbery gone bad and is taken word-for-word exactly as written almost 230 years ago.

—Mark Tully

Thursday, July 18, 1771

Miss Mary Jones, youngest daughter of William Jones, Esq; of Nass, and Miss Gough, a young Lady of Monmouth, who was upon a visit at Nass, were murdered in a meadow near Lidney Church, Gloucestershire, as they were returning from Lidney to Nass. The young ladies, after tea [about 3:00 PM], were detained by the rain until near ten o’clock, at which time they set out for Nass, about two miles distant, without any attendant. The family at Nass, surprised that they did not return, sent a servant with a lanthorn to meet them, who found Miss Jones lying dead across the path in the meadow with the back part of her skull beat to pieces. Miss Gough was found dead in a ditch near the same place, most shockingly bruised. The whole country being very soon alarmed, every man was summoned to go in pursuit of the murderer. William Morgan, a young man of Lidney, a Sawyer by trade, was the only person absent. He was found in bed, and when being called up, and told what was passed, some blood was observed upon the knee of his breeches. He was directly charged with the fact, which he confessed. He says, he had been playing at Fives, and had lost all his money; but had engaged to play for six pense the next night. Whilst he was thinking how to get the money he had engaged to play for these two young ladies passed him and it came into his mind that he could easily rob them. He accordingly followed them and, it being nearly completely dark, he passed by them. [As he passed] Mis Jones said “good night to you Will.” Finding that he was known, he determined to murder them and, taking a little circuit, came up behind them, and with a stake struck Miss Jones upon the head, which brought her to the ground; he then gave another blow, and left her dead on the spot. Miss Gough, who had ran a few yards, he fooled, and struck in the same manner. She screamed out, upon which he repeated his blows till she was, to all appearance, lifeless. He supposes that in struggling she had fallen into the ditch, as he did not throw her there, and that his breeches were stained by kneeling down to take off Miss Jones’s pockets.