A 14 hours' speech in defence of his life

Polite talk of man who shot father and son - Straw on path to prevent footprints - Wiping out a debt


Comparison between murderers is impossible. Each is - if you take the De Quincey standard of murder as a fine art - a separate artist, provided that he is not a mere brute.

The Lord Chief Justice, in a recent appeal, commented on a suggestion by counsel that the murder under consideration was "not necessary." The Lord Chief Justice asked, with uplifted eyebrows, if it were coming to a time when "necessary murder" could be debated in the courts! It was an apt piece of logic.

In that particular case one of the murderers was a brute, the other a weakling dupe, but guilty. Both murdered callously.

But in scores of other murder cases, the murderer has clearly regarded himself as an artist in his own style. He has been as clever in his murderous way as a detective has had to be in his professional way in tracking him down.

A Vain Man

Such an ingenious scoundrel was James Blomfield Rush, who would have been gratified to know that, although he was born around 1800, he would reappear in 1929 as the central figure in a volume of the "Notable British Trials" series.

Rush was a vain man.

The reprint of this evidence, with the introduction by the editor, Mr W Teignmouth Shore (William Hodge) 10s 6d net, gives us, indeed, another proof of the vanity of these "big" criminals.

Mr Shore edited the Charles Peace and Neill Cream volume in this series. Incidently he dedicates this book to Mr William Roughad, who edited the Oscar Slater one, which was allowed, in Slater's famous appeal, to be quoted by counsel. This is a tribute to the growing "Notable Trials" publications.

Was Rush - one may ask Mr Shore - a greater or more incredible murderer that Peace or Cream?

Rush murdered Isaac Jermy, his landlord, and the landlords son. The plans were cunning enough, if the trick had come off, to baffle the police. Rush had shot both in the house. The motive apparently was that he owed much money to Jermy. A paltry motive.

Motive is perhaps the most absorbing problem in murder. Why, people ask, should the man or the woman murderer have done it? What motive had he? What motive had she?

Melodrama

And though some of the judges have warned juries not to pay too much attention to motive - for in many murders there is no motive, but a pure desire to kill - it cannot be got out of the popular mind, when a murderer is reported and the criminal on the run from justice, that the way to discover the murderer is to discover the person who would have most to gain or least to lose by the crime. Rush simply owed money - blackguard as he was in other matters of conduct.

He was found guilty and hanged on April 21st 1849. Was he the greatest villain of the last century, as this volume asks?

No: he was not. But the editor of the volume is very likely right in attributing Rush's fame - of its sort - to this.

"The character and career of James Blomfield Rush were more melodrama than any melodrama, yet they afford an absorbing 'subject' to the student of the mentality of the murderer. His trial is interesting to lawyers chiefly because of the remarkable behaviour of the accused, who defended himself, making a most amazing speech, perhaps the most vivid 'oration' ever delivered in a Criminal Court.

Rush was the son of a Norfolk farmer and Mary Blomfield of the same county. His name was James Blomfield. The mother was awarded heavy damages for breach of promise and married a farmer named Rush who adopted the boy and allowed him to use his name.

Like many other "bad hat," Rush was attractive to women. He had scoundrelly adventures, and when his wife died in 1842 or 1843, the mother of his nine children, he advertised for a governess and selected one named Emily Sandford.

She and her mother noted Rush's "polite behaviour, apparent respectability, general intelligence and moral and religious conversation"

The father was also impressed. Rush took the girl to his Stanfield Hall Farm and seduced her. Then he took lodgings for her in Mylne Street, Pentonville, near the Angel Tavern.

For a while she pretended that he was dead as assumed "widow's weeds." She then joined Rush at Potash Farm and thereupon came a concoction of documents, one of the most intricate ever known, by which Rush planned to get hold of Jermy's property, using the woman as an ignorant accomplice.

Potash Farm was near Stanfield Hall Farm. It was a dreary place then and the goings and comings of Rush were suspicious. There was no doubt that being bankrupt through his debts to Jermy, he had planned murder.

A Precaution

Mr A D Baynes, one of the narrators of the murder, wrote that Rush "met a young woman named Cooper, and enquired whether Jermy was at home. She having answered in the affirmative, he went across the fields to the Stanfield gate. On the same day a boy, by his orders, littered down a quantity of straw from the homestead to the fields towards Stanfield Hall.

"A portion of the path which had never been littered with straw was then littered by Rush's direction: and the straw ceased where the green sward began, so that he could walk towards Mr Jermy's mansion, without any danger of his footprints being traced.

"Rush returned home about 5 o'clock, and asked when the dinner would be ready. Emily Sandford said it would soon be ready; and he said, 'There is just time for me to go into the garden and fire off my gun, and he accordingly went into the garden and discharged his gun before getting ready for dinner. At half past five they sat down ... alone in the house.

Some time between 7 and 8 o'clock Rush went out.

"He had put on a disguise, armed himself with either guns or pistols, and enveloped himself in a large cloak.

Soon after eight o'clock Jermy was sitting alone in his dining room. Mr Jermy, junior, and his wife had retired to the drawing room, they were about to partake of tea, and to amuse themselves by a game of picquet, the cards being on the table.

Mr Jermy was in the habit of going outside the hall after dinner, and left the dining room and proceeded to the porch in front of the mansion. Rush, who knew Mr Jermy's habits and expected him to come out, was standing near the porch, resolved upon murder.

"As soon as Mr Jermy reached the porch Rush presented a gun, or pistol, loaded with slugs, to his breast, fired, and shot him through the heart."

Then came the murder of the son.

In spite of his faked documentary evidence Rush was taken and tried for six days from March 29, 1849. Captain Marryat, the novelist was one of those in court.

"Rush," says the author, "seemingly confident of acquittal and apparently in good health, carefully dressed in black, defended himself. His speech, which occupied 14 hours, is one of the most extraordinary in the annals of criminal trials; turgid, bombastic, often hopelessly irrelevant and difficult to follow. If there had been any chance of his securing a verdict 'Not Guilty,' his defence destroyed it.

Dining in Prison

"When he was sentenced to death, Rush stayed calm.

Here is a letter written by him to an innkeeper two days before his trial, which shows that he liked his comforts:

"Sir, - You will oblige me by sending my breakfast this morning, and my dinner about the same time your family have theirs, and send anything you like except beef; and I shall like cold meat as well as hot, and meal bread, and the tea in a pint mug, if with a cover on the better. "I will trouble you to provide for me now, if you please, until after my trial, ...

(The article continues, but alas, my copy is missing the last few paragraphs ....)


Ref: Evening News, January 1929