Available from November 30th 2017
Two body snatchers- Ben Crouch and Joseph Naples
On Tuesday 18 November 1816, a group of “sack-em up” men, body snatchers, attacked the home of a Mr Millard. Millard was a beadle to the dissecting room at Guys hospital. These men were the Borough Gang, the most infamous of the criminal groups in London and they were trying to defend their living and maintain the price of the bodies they procured. They believed-correctly- that Millard was responsible for hiring private contractors to steal bodies in order to bring down the price. A mob appeared around the house and the “Morning Chronicle” announced that it was only the intervention of Mr Milliard that stopped the mob attacking the resurrectionists. This seems unlikely. The men intimidating Millard, and by implication the whole staff at Guy’s, were hardened criminals who could have handled the situation easily. They merely threatened the beadle were unspecified worse punishments if he did not stop organising competition. A dead b could be worth eight pounds; an East End weaver would be lucky to receive 25pence a week. It was a lucrative trade that was worth defending
William Millard claimed complete ignorance of the gang but he was lying. He was a major supplier of bodies to Sir Astley Cooper, President of the Royal College of Surgeons and the gang knew it. The gang also had links with Sir Astley himself and the attack on William was a proxy warning to a man too eminent for them to threaten directly.
Benjamin Crouch was described as the “Captain” . He was formerly a porter at Guy’s and would have known Millard from his earlier work. Ben was described as a short, ugly, but more often sober than the rest of the band and their leader. He had a previous criminal record. In December 1814, a Ben Crouch was convicted of passing stolen bank notes. His address in Kent Road was one that he was known to live at, according to Millard’s wife Ann, who wrote a pamphlet explaining away how her husband was found in a graveyard in the 1820s in the middle of the night. She produced a character assassination of Crouch which also included his address, also in Kent Road
Earlier, in January 1810, a Benjamin Crouch was accused of assaulting a guest at a wedding of a local man to a “Daughter of Israel “having crashed the celebrations at the “London Hospital” public house. This pub was close to and named after the nearby hospital of the same name, and it seems likely that Crouch was in the area doing some sort of business related to it-perhaps working there. There is no motive given for the attack, but throughout his career, Crouch was indignant about the role of Jews taking “his” trade, and this might explain the attack. This kind of intimidation was certainly part of Crouch’s way of working.
He is a key member of the Borough Gang by 1811/12 as he is mentioned frequently in the Joseph Naples account of their work “Dairy of a Resurrectionist”
Crouch had been to the Waterloo battle field in 1816 with another resurrectionist, Jack Harnett, a brother of one of the gang members on the day. They had been collecting teeth from the corpses of those who had fallen, as well as the epaulettes from uniforms to sell as souvenirs.
Later in the year Crouch was indicted for the attack on St Thomas’. He pointed out that teeth were just as profitable as corpses and that, if push came to shove, he would concentrate on that. Indeed it seems that, according to “The Life of Sir Astley Cooper, Bart “ by Bransby Cooper, Crouch was to move away from body snatching and spent more time cutting the jaws out of corpses in the years after 1816.
The paper reported that the next member of the gang was William Naples. There is to my knowledge, no body snatcher of that name in this period. It may be a reference to Joseph Naples, a member of the Borough Gang who kept a diary of his activities for a brief period in 1811/12. He was the book keeper for the group by 1816. Naples was born in Deptford in 1773 or 74 and was a sailor during the Napoleonic Wars. He worked both as a grave digger at Spa Fields in Clerkenwell and a servant and the dissecting rooms of St Thomas’s, so he had the perfect CV for a body snatcher.
He was caught many times by the authorities. In May 1802,when he was a gravedigger at St James in Clerkenwell, he received two years in the Cold Bath Fields House of Correction for stealing bodies to order from the Spa Fields burial ground. His mistake was to pilfer other property from the coffins. He upset people as well
The authorities’ mistake was to put him to work picking oakum in prison; in May of the same year the “Morning Post” reported that he and an accomplice had made a rope and scaled the walls and escaped. By December 1804 he was back in prison, pleading clemency for his good character and the need to support his two children and his wife Jane.
In September 18 13 he was apprehended at the St Pancras graveyard and in April 1819, he and an accomplice( George Marden) were caught stealing bodies from Sutton graveyard. A few months later they same two were accused of stealing the recent interred body of Ann Johnson from a grave in Reigate.Thomas Johnson, a bank clerk in Reigate , had buried his two and a half year old son on March 31st but had gone into the Red Lion public house on 11 April and seen his son’s corpse again. His outrage and disgusted were further compounded when he found out that his body had been dug out of a dunghill in Sutton, were another body was also stored until a buyer could be found. Another witness had seen Marden and Naples on the road between Reigate and Sutton at 5am carrying goods in their cart.
Joseph seemed to living in Reigate at the time and was clearly operating in Surrey rather than London. Joseph seemed to prefer burial places that were recently opened. In the case of Sutton, the Windsor and Eton Express reported that only 20 people had been interred there and 16 had been stolen.
Naples and Marden found it easy to get bail. From around 1802, Naples was an important ally of Sir Astley Cooper as an important source of cadavers. It is clear that Cooper used his influence to keep many of the Borough Gang members out of prison and paying their bail and sureties.
Ben went on to buy a hotel in Margate which failed because his reputation preceded him. Joseph went back to work in the local hospitals when his trade was abolished by the 1832 Anatomy Act. A man of than name died Southwark in 1843
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