Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sweeney Todd

Margery Cheats the Hangman

"To seek revenge may lead to hell
But everyone does it and seldom as well
As Sweeney
As Sweeney Todd
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

"The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" by Stephen Sondheim.

Even in a sprawling city like London, news about the goings-on in Bell Yard and Fleet Street spread rapidly by word-of-mouth. The street outside Sweeney Todd's shop was soon packed with the curious and the vengeful, and Bell Yard, which served as a pass-through for lawyers on their way to the court buildings nearby, was made impassable by the sheer number of gawkers who came to peer in the windows of Margery Lovett's once popular pie shop.

The newspapers of the time had a field day with the story, reporting rumors and fact with equal zeal. Sir Richard was considered a hero by the people, and as he continued to gather evidence for the upcoming trial, interest in the work of the Bow Street Runners was diverting much of his attention.

Margery Lovett had wasted no time in confessing her sins to the governor of Newgate Prison. She revealed the entire plot and Sweeney Todd's role in it, "believing herself on the edge of the grave" and wishing to come clean before she was hanged. It was clear by her confession that she intended to take Sweeney Todd with her when she swung from the gallows. But Margery Lovett was to cheat the hangman, and nearly squash the Crown's case against the demon barber.

Acting in the dual role of police and prosecutor, Sir Richard was stunned in December 1801 when he was advised that Mrs. Lovett had poisoned herself in her cell at Newgate. How she came by the poison is unknown, but as a woman of means she might have been able to bribe a jailer, and authorities learned that she had had a delivery of some clothes from her home shortly before she died. Haining surmises that Lovett might have had poison hidden away in the clothes for just such a situation.


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