The Murder of Charles Drew (1740)

hangingIt’s not often you can follow a murder case through successive editions of the local newspaper, but this is an exception. All the excerpts which follow are from “The Bury and Norwich Journal”.

First, the murder itself.

February 9th 1740

Last week, Charles John Drew, an attorney at law who has acquired a considerable estate was murdered in his house at Long Melford in Suffolk.

There are various accounts but we have the following account from a gentleman in the neighbourhood.

Mr Drew besides his usual house had another about half a mile distant in the principal street of the town and that he made use of that house as his office in which he sometimes lodged.

On the 31st of last month he was at this house with only one servant who went to bed between 9 and 10 o’clock and left his master in his study, at about 12 as the servant thinks, Mr Drew wak’d him and ordered him to carry out a letter early in the morning which he would leave on the table.

The servant soon fell asleep again and getting up a little before daylight found the door next the street open and his master lying dead nearby within the house. His coat was very much singed and three pretty large irregular pieces of lead (which did not seem to have been cast into bullets) were found in his body and three more on the floor which had gone through him, from where the body laid it is supposed the villain was not concealed in the house but that he had knocked on the door and as soon as Mr Drew opened it shot him.

It is said that neither the servant or neighbours heard a report at least it was agreed that nobody was alarmed by it as to rise so that he had a very good opportunity to robb the house if that was his design but as nothing of that sort seems to have been attempted people are very much at loss at what could be the motive for the barbarous action.

We are told that there are several conjectures about the person but we do not hear of anybody being apprehended.

Next, the rewards offered to try to find the murderer.

February 16th 1740

From the London Gazette, February 12th —
Whereas Charles John Drew, late of Long Melford in Suffolk, attorney at law, was on the 31st of January between the hours of 12 and 1 in the morning was barbarously and cruelly murdered and robbed in his house by persons unknown being that the body with divers slugs which have since taken out of the deceased, His Majesty for the better discovering and bringing to justice the person or persons concerned, is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to anyone of them who shall discover his accomplice except the person who actually committed the murder, so that they be apprehended and convicted.
Thomas Harrington.

February 16th 1740

As a further encouragement for discovering of the offender, John Gent, junior of Sudbury, Suffolk, does by promising a reward of £100 to be paid on conviction of either person or persons concerned in the murder except the people who actually committed the murder.

The dead man’s son is then held for the murder and attempts to bribe his way out of gaol. Note that ‘four persons’ are held responsible by the justices for handling the prosecution. There were no public prosecutors at the time, so the trial had to be in private hands.

March 15th 1740

London—Yesterday, Charles Drew of Long Melford, Suffolk was committed to Newgate by Col. de Veil after an examination of six hours on violent suspicion of being concerned with John Humphrys now in Bury gaol in murdering his father, Charles John Drew of Long Melford about six weeks ago and four persons are bound over to prosecute him at the next Assizes to be held at Bury.

March 22nd 1740

On Tuesday night, Charles Drew endeavoured to corrupt Jonathan the turnkey at Newgate by giving him a bond of £1000 and engaging to give him half his estate if he would let him escape from Newgate and that he could go over to France with him.
Jonathan immediately carried the bond to Mr Ackerman who immediately searched Drew to see if he any weapons and he removed Drew and condemned him to the hole[1] and placed two men to guard him and to cut his victuals for him, he not being allowed edged tools.

We can add the following from “The Newgate Chronicle” of 1740.

When Charles arrived at years of maturity he became acquainted with one Elizabeth Boyer, who submitted to his solicitations, but was a woman of so much art, that most people thought be would marry her; and, when she urged him to it, he said, ‘Betsey, let us stay a little longer; it will be worse for us both if I do it now, for my father will certainly disinherit me:’ to which she replied, ‘I wish somebody would shoot the old dog.’

This discourse was heard to pass between them in the month of January, 1740, and Mr. Drew was found murdered in his house on the first of February following. On inquiry into the affair, it was suspected that Mr. Drew was shot with a gun which had been lent to his son by Mrs. Boyer; and, though no prosecution was commenced against her, there was every reason to imagine that she bad been the chief instigator to the atrocious crime.

Charles, having been to the Chelmsford assizes, fell into company with some smugglers, among whom was one Humphrys, a hardened villain, whom he invited to meet him at Mrs. Boyer’s lodgings. They accordingly met; when Drew promised to settle two hundred pounds a year on him if he would murder his father; and gave him likewise at the time a considerable sum of money.

Humphrys hesitated some time; but, at length consenting to the horrid proposal, they went together towards the house, having a gun loaded with slugs, about eleven at night on the 31st of January. It was agreed that young Drew should stand at a distance, while Humphrys was to knock at the door, ask for the old man, and then shoot him; but Humphrys’ courage failing him when he came near the spot, he threw down the gun, saying he would have no concern in the murder. On this young Drew commanded him to keep silence, on pain of death; and, taking up the gun, went to the door, and, when his father opened it, shot him dead on the spot.

Having committed this horrid parricide, he said to Humphrys, ‘The job is done;’ on which Humphrys went to Dunmow, in Essex, where he had appointed to meet some smugglers that night, and after that travelled to London.

Charles Drew Jnr. was quickly tried and convicted. However, the attempt to convict his supposed accomplice, Edward Humphrys, seems to have become something of a saga. First, he’s found guilty, but detained pending some other (unspecified) charge.

March 29th 1740

At Bury Assizes held this week two persons received the death sentence-viz-Charles Drew for the murder of his father and James Curry for robbery on the highway.

Drew’s tryal lasted five hours there being at least 16 witnesses.

Edward Humphrys swore that on the night of January 31st at about nine o’ clock he came to Melford from Witham. That meeting the prisoner with his gun in his hand in a lane between the two houses of the late Mr Drew, he got off his horse and put him in a field and then the prisoner hid his gun, they walked together to the house where the family lived. Tthe prisoner carried him into his own lodgings and gave him a dram of brandy.

After this they went Drew’s other house the prisoner taking his gun with him and went into the house alone, the said Humphrys being in the street, at a little distance he heard a noise within the house soon after the prisoner came out and told him the jobb was done, they then walked towards Liston Hall about 1½ miles away from Mr Drew’s house and as soon as they parted company. Humphrys went back to where he had left his horse and rode to Dunmow in Essex and did not hear of the murder till he got to London.

Other witnesses said he was at Melford that night and that when he came thither again about a fortnight afterwards the prisoner went to his house at midnight, when he was apprehended the prisoner shew’d great uneasiness and threatened the constable and when the gentleman prest’d very strongly to prosecute him and told him plainly the suspicion he would lie under if he did not do so.

He was far from taking this advice that he bribed this very gentleman to get his discharge and that soon after this he went to London, he took the name of Thomas Roberts and left off his mourning and wore laced cloaths and took great pains to conceal himself and gave orders for the conveyance of his estate away.

He hired one William Mace to go from London to Bury to hear what he would say that while he was in Newgate he endeavoured to corrupt a turnkey, all of which papers and three or four rings which prisoner gave him were produced in court. He called only two witnesses in his defence, one as to the time of night when he went from home the other as to the time when he got to Liston Hall but they differed so little from the hour that they seemed to confirm his evidence than to contradict it, upon the whole it appeared clearly that he actually committed the murder or at least was an accomplice in it.

The Jury found him guilty of the indictment without going out. He is still detained in Bury gaol a gentleman of Melford having sworn the peace against him.

Suddenly, Humphrys is released, with no reason reported. Then picked up again the next day.

April 5th 1740

We hear that Edward Humphry who was supposed to be concerned in the murder of Mr Drew was discharged from Bury gaol last Friday by the Judge.

April 6th 1740

Edward Humphry was again brought to gaol as tis said occasioned by a gentleman swearing the peace against him.

Drew was duly hanged own April 9th, 1740, but Humphrys appeared to be still in some state of uncertainty.

April 12th 1740

Last week Mr Drew was executed at Bury, we are assured that he told a gentleman who was with him in the gaol soon after he received the sentence of death, that he would leave a paper relating to the fact of which he was convicted with a clergyman and that the intended to send for but we have not heard whether he did or not.

And there, most frustratingly, the story ends in the Ipswich paper. However, “The Colchester Journal” added one further step.

Since his apprehending Humphrys a second time, Mr Timothy Drew an attorney (by whose vigilance Charles Drew was apprehended at a Bagnio in Leicester Fields) is gone to Bury to have him closely confined having several facts to charge him with.

That really is the end—at least of the newspaper reports. However, “The Newgate Chronicle” adds this single sentence which suggests that Humphrys saved himself by turning King’s Evidence.

On the approach of the assizes Humphrys being admitted an evidence, Drew was convicted after a trial of several hours.

Young Charles was duly hanged, aged 25. To the end, he blamed his father for not giving him the estate and money he wanted.


  1. I think ‘the hole’ was basically solitary confinement. The prohibition on ‘edged tools’ was clearly to prevent suicide.  ↩

About William Savage

Independent researcher and author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
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