Researching Coincidences

For the last month or so I have researching two murders that occurred in the vicinity of Pype Hayes Park, close to where I lived as a child in Erdington, Birmingham. Both victims were women, aged 20. Both were killed on or around 27 May, which marked the end of the Whitsun weekend after attending a dance. In both cases a man called Thornton was acquitted of the murder. One occurred in 1817, and the other in 1973.

The earlier case changed British legal history, leading to the abolition of trial by combat and private appeals against criminal verdicts. Trial by combat allowed the accused to challenge his accuser to a flight, with his guilt or innocence decided by the outcome. It was a mediaeval option that remained on the statue book and was used by Abraham Thornton to escape a second trial for the murder of Mary Ashford.

Less is known about the second case, even though relatives and friends of the victim are probably still alive, and her killer may be too. I have obtained enough information to do a detailed comparison and dispense with the nonsense that there was a supernatural element. Coincidences occur and researchers should not be distracted by, or overstate, them.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction best known for his Jack the Ripper Suspects: The Definitive Guide and Encyclopedia.

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