This book, published in the late 1820s, records one of the most sensational murders of the 19th century. The case is that of farmer William Corder, who in 1826 was charged with the murder of Maria Marten, of Polstead in Suffolk. Marten had given birth to Corder’s illegitimate child some months previously, who subsequently died. Corder had agreed to marry Marten, who was last seen heading to meet him in a barn prior to travelling to Ipswich for the wedding. Though Corder was seen in the area from time to time thereafter, he eventually disappeared for good. Suspecting foul play, Maria Marten’s father eventually found her remains buried in a shallow grave. Corder was traced to London where he was arrested and charged with her murder.
The ‘Red Barn murder’ (as Marten’s death became known) proved sensational for the popular press, owing to the deep melodrama it contained. Corder was painted as an ‘evil squire’ by newspapers and Marten was portrayed as an innocent country girl (neither of which were strictly true). The fact that Marten’s stepmother had dreamt about the location of her body also added an element of the supernatural to the story. Page upon page of newspaper reports dealt with the case and a huge business in souvenirs (such as pottery figurines) flourished.