The story of the “identical” Erdington murders can be read here. Basically it’s about two murders with striking similarities that happened 157 years apart. On 27 May 1817, 20 year old Mary Ashford was found dead in Erdington, and on the same day in 1974, 20 year old Barbara Forrest’s body was found in the same place. There are many identical details about these two cases including the surname of the men who were arrested for the crimes. They were both called Thornton.
(Not Thornton, I just want an excuse to post Stalin’s mugshot)
The Thornton accused of Mary’s murder made legal history by being the last man in Britain to call forth an old law……
“Lord Ellenborough allowed Thornton to take advantage of an archaic law called ‘Trial by Battel’. This ancient right necessitated Thornton renewing his plea of ‘not guilty’ before throwing down a gauntlet from the dock. This signified a challenge to William Ashford for a fight to the death, unless one of them surrendered or was incapacitated during the fight.
Abraham Thornton held what resembled a heavy leather mitten with a trailing feather attached, and invoked the ancient English law. He declared he was innocent and lifted the gauntlet above his head, then hurled it down from the dock as the pressmen scribbled furiously.
Because William Ashford had not responded to Abraham Thornton’s challenge by 21 April in the following year, the latter was thoroughly discharged.
The Wager of Battel was founded on the belief that God would give victory to the party in the right. The kings maintained control over the practice, and it came to be reserved for cases affecting royal interests, such as serious criminal cases or disputes over land.
“A party could, therefore, hire someone, a champion, to swear that the champion’s father had told him on his deathbed that the party was the true owner of the land. The other party also produced a champion who swore just the opposite. The winner was held to have good title to the land. It was said that many monasteries, which owned vast tracts of land, had virtual stables of champions in waiting to settle disputes that might arise.
female champions found here