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The bewitched skull of the Red Barn Murderer

Hanging of William Corder on August 11th 1828.  Photo credit: Wikipedia

Hanging of William Corder on August 11th 1828. Photo credit: Wikipedia

On April 19th 1828 the decomposing body of Maria Marten was discovered by her stepfather in the Red Barn in Polstead, Suffolk, England.  Maria had been missing since 1827 and her body was found at this local landmark after her mother had dreams that her daughter’s body was hidden inside.  The crime became known and the Red Barn Murder and was one of the most well-publicized trials of the early 19th century.

Maria’s family last saw her alive in May of 1827, before she met her fiancé, William Corder, at the Red Barn to elope.  Shortly after Maria disappeared William left town, but continued to send letters to Maria’s family claiming they had run off to Ipswich together.  After Maria’s body was recovered local authorities held an inquest and determined that there was enough evidence to try William for the crime.

When police tracked him down in London they found that he had married another woman and started a new life.  William Corder was arrested, tried, and found guilty of Maria’s murder.  On August 11th 1828 shortly before noon, he was hanged in front of a huge crowd.    Since medical schools in England could only use the cadavers of executed criminals for dissection at this time, his body was anatomized the next day in front physicians and medical students from Cambridge University.

The book bound with William Corder’s skin. Photo Credit: Murderpedia

The surgeons also conducted a phrenological examination of the skull and reported that Corder’s skull had overly developed areas of “secretiveness, acquisitiveness, destructiveness, philoprogenitiveness [of or relating to love of children], and imitativeness” with little evidence of “benevolence or veneration”.  A phrenology bust and death mask were made from William Corder’s corpse, and his skin was tanned and used to bind a book.  The book and a replica of William Corder’s death mask are both on display at the Moyses’ Hall Museum in Suffolk.

His skeleton was articulated and displayed in a glass case in the West Suffolk Hospital and rigged with a mechanism that made the arm point to the collection box when approached.  After that, the Corder’s skeleton ended up in the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons of England next to the remains of Jonathan Wild.  In 2004, Corder’s bones were removed from display and cremated

However, there is an urban legend that says about 50 years after Corder’s execution, his skull was taken by doctor in Suffolk, who wanted to add it to his collection of Red Barn Murder memorabilia.  After he brought the skull home he started seeing ghosts and hearing voices.  Late one night he woke up to loud noises in the room below.  When he went to inspect the creepy sounds, he found the cabinet where he kept the skull had opened on its own, the box that he kept the skull in was smashed, and the skull itself had been mysteriously moved across the room.  This doctor was so disturbed by these events that he gave the skull to a friend who buried it and these unexplained disturbances ceased.


Blanco JI. William Corder. Retrieved on March 10, 2014 from:


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