(1680 - June 10, 1731) was a murderer who conspired with her lover,
Peter Murphy, to murder her husband Henry.
The murderous pair tried poison at
first but were unsuccessful. Then, Murphy jumped on Henry and beat him
into unconsciousness. Catherine completed the deed by strangling him
with a handkerchief.
A quick trial was held, but a local
judge was suspicious because the coffin was nailed shut. He ordered
the coffin opened so that it was obvious that Henry had not died of a
fit, as Catherine had insisted.
Both Peter Murphy and his lover,
Catherine Bevan, were arrested. They were executed on June 10, 1731.
Catherine was strangled and burnt at the stake. Her rope burnt through
and so she was burnt alive. She was the only American woman to meet
such a fate.
England the penalty of being burned at the stake was usually inflicted
on those unfortunates who happened to have a different religion to the
one more generally practised at the time. Two differing reasons for
such a horrific death were that it prepared the heretical victim for
the ever-burning fires that surely awaited him or her below, and that
only by fire could the victim’s soul be cleansed of his or her
English colonists brought many of their quaint customs with them into
America, including the home-grown methods of execution. Hanging needed
no introduction, but strangely enough being burned at the stake rarely
occurred except in the notable case of Catherine Bevan, not for being
a heretic but a murderer.
she, together with her servant lover, planned the death of her
husband. Unable to kill him by herself, it was agreed that the young
man would knock him unconscious and she would then strangle him.
Having carried out their plan, they reported to the coroner that he
had died while having a fit and that the funeral had been arranged.
However, the official insisted on inspecting the body and on opening
up the coffin discovered the bruised and battered corpse.
being sentenced to death, Catherine, her hands bound behind her, was
taken to the market square and there tied to a stake by means of a
rope around her neck. Kindling was heaped around her and while the
local residents either cheered or watched appalled, the tinder was
flames leapt upwards the executioner attempted to reach forward and
pull the rope with the intention of ending her life quickly by
strangling her but, ironically, considering the method by which she
had murdered her husband, the rope, singed by the mounting flames, had
burnt away and Catherine collapsed, to be slowly incinerated in the
in Catherine’s case, a rope did Hannah Dagoe a favour. Sentenced to
death for robbery in 1763, this strongly built Irishwoman had no
intention of going quietly as the cart stopped beneath the Tyburn
she got her hands free and attacked the hangman, nearly stunning him.
Then, turning to the crowds surrounding the scaffold, she tore off her
hat and cloak and tossed them as souvenirs to the many outstretched
hands. As she was doing so the hangman gathered his wits again and
managed to drop the noose over her head – but rather than
submitting to be slowly strangled (as usually happened at Tyburn), she
threw herself over the side of the cart with such violence that her
neck was broken, and she died instantly.
True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott
Dead Women day
Five: Petit Treason
When Henry Beven of New Castle, Delaware, “recon'd near 60 years of
age,” died unexpedtedly, his neighbors were suspicious. They had
suspected Henry's wife Catherine, “upwards of 50,” of having too
familiar an intamacy with a young servant of the household, one Peter
Murphy. Henry himself had frequently complained to his neighbord that,
“his Wife and Servant beat and abused him,” and many felt that the old
man may have had, “not fair usage.”
Rumour being rife in
the area, a county Magistrate decided to attend the funeral and was
shocked to find that, “the Coffan had been nailed up befoore any of
the Company came.” The Magistrate ordered the coffin to be pried open
and thereupon found the corpse of Henry Bevan to be terribly bruised
and other signs of violence apparent.
A Coroner's Inquest
was called and after they viewed, “those Bruises &c. that were visible
in several Parts of his Body,” the opinion was expressed that the
unfortunate Henry Bevan had met his demise through violent means.
Catherine Bevan and
Peter Murphy were, “immediately committed upon Suspicion.” At first
they both protested their innocence and denied their guilt. Once they
were seperated, however, Peter Murphy could not withstand the pressure
of interrogation and confessed. Murphy claimed, “That his Mistress
sent him to Newcastle to buy some Rat's Bane, or, if he could not get
that, some Roman Vitriol.”
Murphy couldn't find
any Rat's Bane so he settled for the Vitriol which they, “gave her
Husband to drink dissolved in a Glass of Wine,” but the old man
immediatelt vomited it up and fearing, “it would not have the desired
effect,” the pair decided on a more certain path.
Peter Murphy claimed
that Catherine had him, “Beat his Master well, especially about the
Breast, till he should grow so weak that she might be able to deal
with him, and leave the rest to her.” Accordingly this was done until,
“the old man could no longer stand.” He then confessed that the pair
moved Bevan to the couch where, “his Wife twisted a handkerchief
around his Neck in order to strangle him.” At this time Peter Murphy
left for, “Former Neighbors who lived at a Distance,” to inform them
that Catherine Bevan's husband, “was in a Fit, and she feared he would
die in it, and desired them to come to the House immediately.”
Peter testified that
he returned to the Bevan household before the neighbor's arrival and
found Henry Bevan dead, and that his Mistress informed him, “”I have
had two hard Struggles with the old Man since you went away, and he
like to have been too strong for me both Times, but I have quieted him
at last.” So that was Peter Murphy's tale. Catherine Bevan denied it
Peter Murphy repeated
this tale at trial. The Court believed his testimony and both Peter
and Catherine were found guilty of the murder of Henry Bevan. The
Court passed sentence that the man was to be hanged and the woman
strangled and burned at the stake, burning being the penalty for a
wife's murder murder of her sovereign lord. The punishment for a
female petit treason was predicated on the notion that such a
punishment would spare a female's modesty as her corpse would be
spared the ritual humiliation that often accompanied the punishment of
After sentence was
passed Peter Murphy changed his tune. Before the scheduled execution
Murphy declared Catherine innocent of the crimes he ascribed to her.
He claimed to have, “wronged her much, that she did not tie the
handkerchief round her Husband's Neck, and that the chhief of his
Evidence at Court was false; but that he was the Promoter of all that
happen'd, and confessed to all that was done. Catherine continued to
deny, “to the last that she acted any Part in the Murder.”
The Court had no take
with last minute confessions and the executions were carried out as
scheduled on June 10, 1731. It was reported that, “Neither of them
said much at the Place of Execution: The Man seem's penitent, but the
Woman appear'd hardened.”
It was custom when
burning a free woman to place a cord around their neck and draw it
tight as the flames were lit in an effort to mitigate the sufferings
of one so penalized. In Catherine Bevan's case, when the fire was lit
it broke out, “in a stream which pointed directly on the Rope that
went Round her Neck, and burnt it off instantly, so that she fell into
the Flames, and was seen to struggle.
Laura Wilkerson - Salon.com