Perp: Arundel Cooke
Accomplice: John Woodburne
Date: April, 1722
The Crime : Attempted murder
Victim: His Father-in-law
Motive : Inheritance. He wanted to obtain his
Location : Bury St Edmunds
The Story : The prosecution of these offenders took
place under the provisions of a statute, passed in the reign of Charles the Second, commonly called " Sir John
Coventry's Act," the origin of which we have elsewhere described, and which has since been followed by an
enactment, more extensive in its operation, called " Lord Ellenborough's Act."
Mr. Cooke, who by virtue of his profession as a barrister was entitled to the rank of esquire, was
born at Bury St. Edmunds, in Suffolk, and was a man of considerable fortune at the time of his execution.
Woodburne, his companion in crime, was a labouring man in his service, who, having a family of six
children, was induced to join in the commission of the crime, of which he was found guilty, upon the promise of the
payment to him of 100l. for his aid in the diabolical plan.
Mr. Cooke, it appears, was married to the daughter of Mr. Crisp, the victim of his attack. The
latter was a gentleman of very large property, and of infirm habit of body, and having made his will in favour of
his son-in-law, the latter became anxious to possess the estate, and determined, by murdering the old gentleman, to
secure its immediate transfer to himself. For this purpose, he procured the co-operation of Woodburne on the terms
which we have already mentioned, and Christmas evening of the year 1721 was fixed upon for the perpetration of the
Mr. Crisp was to dine with his son-in-law on that day, and Woodburne was directed to lie in wait in
the churchyard, which lay between the houses of the old gentleman and his son- in-law, behind a tomb-stone, in the
evening, when, at a given signal, be was to fall upon and kill the former. The time arrived when Mr. Crisp was to
depart, and upon his going out, Mr. Cooke followed him, and then aided his assistant in a most violent attack upon
The old man was left for dead, but in spite of the wounds which he had received, he crawled back to
his daughter, to whom he communicated his suspicions, that her husband was the originator of the murderous attempt
which had been made.
Woodburne was impeached by his sudden disappearance ; and the affair having created a great deal of
excitement in the neighbourhood, he was followed and secured, and then he exposed the enormity of his offence, by
confessing the whole of the circumstances attending its commission. Mr. Cooke was also taken into custody, and a
bill of indictment was preferred at the ensuing assizes, at Bury St: Edmunds, upon which the two prisoners were
tried and found guilty.
Upon their being called up to receive sentence of death, Cooke desired to be heard : and the court
complying with his request, he urged that " judgment could not pass on the verdict, because the act of
parliament simply mentions an intention to maim or deface, whereas he was firmly resolved to have committed
He quoted several law cases in favour of the arguments he had advanced, and hoped that judgment,
might be respited till the opinion of the twelve judges could be taken on the case. Lord Chief Justice King,
however, who presided on this occasion, declared that he could not admit the force of Mr. Cooke's plea,
consistently with his own oath as a judge : " for (said he) it would establish a principle
in the law inconsistent with the first dictates of natural reason, as the greatest villain might, when convicted of
a smaller offence, plead that the judgment must be arrested, because he intended to commit a greater. In the
present instance therefore judgment cannot be arrested, as the intention is naturally implied when the crime is
Sentence of death was then passed, and the prisoners were left for execution. After condemnation,
the unhappy man Woodburne exhibited signs of the most sincere penitence,; but his wretched tempter to crime
conducted himself with unbecoming reserve and moroseness, steadily denying his guilt, and employing his most
strenuous exertions to procure a pardon.
The 3rd April, 1722, was at length fixed for the execution of the sentence, and Cook was hanged at
four in the morning of that day, in obedience to a request which he made, in order that he should not be exposed to
the public gaze ; while Woodburn was turned off, in the afternoon, on the same gallows. The execution took place at
Bury St Edmunds, the crime having been committed within a mile of that place.