First portrait of a criminal published in a British newspaper

On 27th June 1881, 64-years-old coin dealer Isaac Gold was brutally murdered on the 14:00 London to Brighton express train. At preston Park station the ticket collector noticed a man smothered with blood who,on inquiry, claimed he had been attacked by two passengers who had fled. There was no evidence against the man, Percy Mapleton, but he was arrested because police thought he might have attempted suicide (then a criminal offence). Adetective escorted him to his home in Surrey and waited patiently outsidewhile Mapleton went in to change his clothes. Meanwhile Gold’s body had been found beside the railway track, stabbed in the chest and shot in the neck.

Police rushed into the house only to find that Mapleton had escaped through the back door. On 1st July, at the request of the police, the Daily Telegraph made history by publishing an artist’s impressionof Mapletonwith the unflattering description: “Age 22, middle height, very thin, sickly appearance, scratches on throat, wounds on head, probably clean shaved, low felt hat, black coat, teeth much discoloured … He is very round shouldered, and his thin overcoat hangs in awkward folds about his spare figure. His forehead and chin are both receding. He has a slight moustache, and very small dark whiskers. His jawbones are prominent, his cheeks sunken and sallow, and his teeth fully exposed when laughing. His upper lip is thin and drawn inwards. His eyes are grey and large. His gait is singular; he is inclined to slouch and when not carrying a bag, his left hand is usually in his pocket. He generally carries a crutch stick.”

Percy Mapleton (23 February 1860 – 29 November 1881)

Percy Mapleton (23 February 1860 – 29 November 1881)

The response led to several arrestsincluding one innocent suspect who was charged with the murder. Then on 8th July, after a tip-offfrom the landlady of Mapleton’s new lodging in Stepney, he was arrested- Mrs Bickers claimed £200 reward despite not having seen the picture in the Daily Telegraph. Reporting on the trial, The Times newspaper noted that their competitor’s picture ‘did not bear any resemblance to the prisoner’.

Trial of Percy Lefroy Mapleton, old print, 1881

Trial of Percy Lefroy Mapleton, old print, 1881

At 08:59 on 29th November 1881 at Lewes Gaol Mapleton was hanged ‘without a struggle’. His last wordswere to the hangman William Marwood; he said ‘Do you think the rope will break?’ After his execution Mapleton’s waxwork was exhibited in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds wax museum.

William Marwood, the hangman who developed the 'long drop' technique of hanging

William Marwood, the hangman who developed the ‘long drop’ technique of hanging

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