Friday, February 4, 2011

Tart of the Week: Catherine Hayes

Catherine Hayes is both the name of an opera singer and the name of a murderess.  Take a guess which one we shall be discussing based on the above mugshot.

The more bloodthirsty Catherine Hayes was born in 1690 and was a teenage runaway.  She made a living through prostitution and as a servant, leaving her no easy life and at least two illegitimate children.  In 1723 she was hired by a wealthy farmer with two sons.  The eldest, John, fell in love with Catherine, even though she was slightly older than him and with a shadowy past.  They married in secret and moved to London.  Catherine earned a reputation as the white trash of Tottenham Court Road: arguing with neighbors, conducting adulterous affairs, and fighting with her husband.  The marriage was strained but things became worse when Catherine convinced her husband to take in a teenage lodger named Billings; a lodger who just happened to be her son.  Neighbors whispered of Catherine having an incestuous affair with Billings but one can only wonder about that accusation.

After a particularly bad argument with John, Catherine the sociopath decided he must be killed.  She recruited Billings for the task and a second lodger who she had convinced him that John has killed two of their children.  So the plan was hatched.  The three binge-drank with John until he was black-out drunk.  Then, like a scene ripped out of the pages of Party Monster (the similarities are uncanny*) the three went about murdering John.  They hit him over the head with a hatchet and then cut up the body into pieces to be disposed in the Thames.  Catherine actually wanted to boil her deceased husband's body to remove the bones which just shows how sick in the head she was!  However, that plan was thrown out.  So, long gruesome story short, body parts were dropped off in various ponds and the Thames due to poor planning.  Poor planned murders always lead to spoiled murder plans and that is exactly what happened to Catherine and her followers.

John's head washed up on the shore of the Thames and Catherine, Billings, and the lodger accomplice were detained and put on trial where they confessed to the crime.  Catherine was charged with the crime of petty treason.  Because men were considered more valuable than women, if a lady or servant murdered their husband/boss it was considered treasonous due to the act being against the natural order of things.  Naturally, the trial was quite the scandal so when the date of Catherine's execution near Tyburn arrived, there was quite the crowd appearing to spectate.   Catherine watched as men were hung at the infamous tree, including those for sodomy, theft, and even her accomplice Billings for the crime he committed with her. Catherine's grim destiny lay elsewhere.  Her punishment was to be burned at the stake.  Catherine had begged the executioner to strangle her with the rope around her neck, a common means of mercy for executions by fire, however the smoke blew into his eyes preventing him from the act of mercy.  All eyewitness reports describe a very dramatic ending for dear Catherine, complete with her pawing to move the fagots of wood away.  She put on quite an end show that was rather gruesome...but then again, it would seem she was quite deserving of it.

*In this true story, murder was committed by parties under the influence of drugs.  They hit the victim over the head with a hammer rather than hatchet, cut up the body and put it in a box to be disposed in the Hudson rather than Thames.  However the box was lined with cork and floated.


  1. Wow, what a story! I read this one aloud to my husband this morning. Talk about having a penchant for creative murder, yeah? I couldn't help but hear Chicago's "Cell Block" while reading, too: He had it comin'! He had it comin'! He only had himself to blame...

    Great Tart!

  2. "He fell into my hatchet. He fell into my hatchet ten times."

    Now I am going to have that song stuck in my head all morning!

  3. Wow, that's disgusting, yet such an interesting story. It had me gaping.

  4. LOL- I love that song... am now imagining how all the other verses should be changed.