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Catherine BEVAN





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 3, 1731
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: 1680
Victim profile: Henry Bevan, 60 (her husband)
Method of murder: Strangulation with a handkerchief
Location: New Castle County, Delaware, USA
Status: 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

Catherine Bevan (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.


·      Look For the Woman by Jay Robert Nash. M. Evans and Company, Inc. 1981. ISBN 0-87131-336-7


BEVAN, Catherine (USA)

In 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 heretical thoughts.

The 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.

In 1731 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.

After 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 ignited.

As the 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 roaring inferno.

Unlike 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 gallows.

Somehow 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.

Amazing 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 all.

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 the male.

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 -



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