England’s Most Wanted Criminal: Charles Peace’s Life and Crimes

Early Life and Criminal Career

Charles Peace was born in Sheffield, England, in 1832. He grew up in poverty and had a difficult childhood. His father was a skilled metalworker, but Charles had little interest in following in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he became fascinated with locks and started working as a locksmith as a teenager.

England's Most Wanted Criminal: Charles Peace's Life and Crimes

Peace’s early career as a locksmith gave him the skills he needed to become a burglar. He quickly learned how to pick locks and gained a reputation for being able to break into houses undetected. He began committing burglaries in the 1850s and soon became one of the most skilled burglars in England.

Over the years, Peace perfected his craft, carefully planning and executing burglaries with the precision of a surgeon. He was known for his meticulous attention to detail and ability to avoid detection. He often cased a house for days or even weeks before making his move, studying the habits of the occupants and identifying the best time to strike.

Peace’s criminal career brought him considerable wealth, but he lived a lavish lifestyle that he could not sustain. He spent money on expensive clothes, jewelry, and wine, and he enjoyed gambling. His extravagant lifestyle led him to commit more burglaries to support his habits.

Marriage and Family

In 1859, Peace married a woman named Hannah Ward. They had six children together, but Peace continued his life of crime despite having a family to support.

His criminal activities began to catch up with him in the mid-1870s. He was arrested several times for burglary, and the police started to view him as a dangerous criminal who needed to be brought to justice.

Arrest and Imprisonment

In 1876, Peace was arrested for burglary and sentenced to penal servitude for life. He was sent to Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire, England, where he served as a model prisoner for the first few months.

However, Peace soon began to cause problems in prison. He was known for his aggressive behavior towards other inmates and prison guards. He was also deeply unhappy about his sentence and maintained his innocence, even though he had been caught red-handed committing the burglary for which he was convicted.

Escape and Continued Crimes

In 1877, Peace managed to escape from prison by sawing through the bars of his cell and climbing over the prison wall. He went on the run and continued to commit burglaries throughout England, moving from place to place to avoid detection.

Peace’s escape from prison made him a notorious figure in England, and the police launched a massive manhunt to find him. They combed the countryside and towns, searching for any sign of his whereabouts. Peace, however, remained one step ahead of them, using his skills as a burglar to avoid detection.

His First Murder

On August 1st, 1876, Charles Peace was spotted by two police officers as he entered the grounds of a house in Whalley Range, Manchester at midnight. One of the officers, PC Nicholas Cocck, tried to intercept him as he was attempting to flee. However, Peace pulled out his revolver and warned Cocck to stand back. Despite the warning, Cocck continued to approach him and Peace fired his weapon, deliberately missing him. When Cocck drew his truncheon, Peace fired again and seriously wounded him. Tragically, Cocck died from his injuries the following day.

In the confusion of the dark, Peace managed to escape. Two brothers who lived nearby, John and William Habron, were subsequently arrested and charged with Constable Cocck’s murder. While John Habron was acquitted due to lack of evidence, William Habron was sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life in penal servitude. During the trial, Peace attended as a spectator to confirm that he was not a suspect before returning to Darnall.

In 1878, Peace committed his most serious crime. He broke into the home of a wealthy couple named Isaac and Miriam Dyson in Manchester. When the couple discovered him in their house, Peace shot and killed them both. He also shot and injured their housemaid before fleeing the scene.

Dyson’s murder

During this time, Charles Peace developed an unhealthy obsession with the wife of his neighbor, Mr. Dyson. It is unclear whether his feelings were reciprocated, but Mr. Dyson did throw a warning card into Peace’s garden in June 1876, asking him not to interfere with his family.

On July 1st of the same year, Peace threatened Mrs. Dyson, telling her he would harm her and her husband. Mr. Dyson then took legal action against Peace and the family moved to a new home in Banner Cross. However, on their first day in the new house, Mrs. Dyson was approached by Peace who declared, “You see, I am here to annoy you, and I’ll annoy you wherever you go.”

Later that evening, Peace observed Mrs. Dyson leaving the back door of her home and entering an outhouse. He followed her and confronted her with a revolver, threatening to shoot her. In fear for her life, she retreated into the outhouse and her husband went to investigate. Peace fled down the passage, with Mr. Dyson in pursuit. Peace fired two shots, with the second fatally striking Mr. Dyson in the temple. Mrs. Dyson cried out for help as Peace escaped, making his way to Hull via train, where his wife owned an eating house.

Capture, Trial, and Execution

The police were determined to catch Peace after the Dyson murders. They launched an intensive manhunt, using every resource at their disposal to find him. After several months on the run, Peace was finally captured in London in October 1878.

England's Most Wanted Criminal: Charles Peace's Life and Crimes
Execution of Peace by William Marwood – 1879 waxwork in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds London. images from Wikipedia

He was put on trial for the murders of the Dysons and found guilty. During his trial, Peace maintained his innocence, but the evidence against him was overwhelming. He was sentenced to death by hanging, and his execution was set for February 25, 1879.

On the day of his execution, Peace made a final attempt to save himself by writing a letter to Queen Victoria, begging for clemency. However, his plea was ignored, and he was hanged at Armley Jail in Leeds.

After his execution, Peace’s body was buried in the prison graveyard. However, his notoriety as a criminal and his status as an escapee led to his body being exhumed and studied by doctors and scientists, who were interested in studying the criminal mind.

Legacy of Charles Peace

Charles Peace was a notorious criminal who became known for his burglaries, his escape from prison, and his violent crimes. Despite his skill as a burglar, his violent tendencies and his tendency to live an extravagant lifestyle eventually caught up with him, and he was sentenced to life in prison. His escape from prison and subsequent crimes made him one of the most wanted men in England, and his eventual capture and execution became a major news story at the time.

Today, Peace’s story is often seen as a cautionary tale about the dangers of criminality and the risks of a life of violence. While his story has fascinated people for generations, it is also a reminder of the human cost of crime and the importance of upholding the rule of law.

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