The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer
On Sale: July 12, 2016
Featuring: Robert Coombes
Hardcover / e-Book
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True Crime | Historical
From the internationally bestselling author, a deeply
researched and atmospheric murder mystery of late
In the summer of 1895, Robert Coombes (age 13) and his
brother Nattie (age 12) were seen spending lavishly around
the docklands of East London -- for ten days in July, they
ate out at coffee houses and took trips to the seaside and
the theater. The boys told neighbors they had been left home
alone while their mother visited family in Liverpool, but
their aunt was suspicious. When she eventually she forced
the brothers to open the house to her, she found the badly
decomposed body of their mother in a bedroom upstairs.
Robert and Nattie were arrested for matricide and sent for
trial at the Old Bailey.
Robert confessed to having stabbed his mother, but his
lawyers argued that he was insane. Nattie struck a plea and
gave evidence against his brother. The court heard testimony
about Robert's severe headaches, his fascination with
violent criminals and his passion for 'penny dreadfuls', the
pulp fiction of the day. He seemed to feel no remorse for
what he had done, and neither the prosecution nor the
defense could find a motive for the murder. The judge
sentenced the thirteen-year-old to detention in Broadmoor,
the most infamous criminal lunatic asylum in the land. Yet
Broadmoor turned out to be the beginning of a new life for
Robert--one that would have profoundly shocked anyone who
thought they understood the Wicked Boy.
At a time of great tumult and uncertainty, Robert Coombes's
case crystallized contemporary anxieties about the education
of the working classes, the dangers of pulp fiction, and
evolving theories of criminality, childhood, and insanity.
With riveting detail and rich atmosphere, Kate Summerscale
recreates this terrible crime and its aftermath, uncovering
an extraordinary story of man's capacity to overcome the past.
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