The Invention Of Murder

"We are a trading community - a commercial people.

Murder is, doubtless, a very shocking offence; nevertheless, as what is done is not to be undone, let us make our money out of it." Punch, 1842

Over the course of the nineteenth century, murder - in reality a rarity - became ubiquitous: transformed into novels, into broadsides and ballads, into theatre and melodrama.

Seeing therein the foundation of modern notions of crime, "The Invention of Murder" explores this fascination with deadly violence by relating some of the century's most gripping and gruesome cases and the ways in which they were commercially exploited."




The Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 were particularly dreadful: two separate sets of killings in which seven people lost their lives.

It was a case that shocked the nation - this was half as many people as had been murdered in the entire previous year throughout England and Wales - and forced the establishment to rethink the policing of major cities.

How the Victorians turned violent crime into entertainment.


Despite rising crime figures - and increasingly crowded cities - the public were reluctant to accept the establishment of an organised police force.

This episode examines the reasons for that unwillingness and offers a fascinating insight into the origins of modern policing.

Why the public initially resisted an organised police force.


The decreasing age of the British population - in the 1820s half the country was under 25 - meant there was a lucrative market for lively entertainment.

Children flocked to penny gaffs: unlicensed theatres which offered cheap entertainment, often dramatisations of notorious murders.

One of the most infamous, the Red Barn Murder of 1828, was being performed as a melodrama even before the prime suspect was put on trial.


As the century progressed, so did advances in medical knowledge and expert witnesses were soon playing a major part in criminal trials.

This episode looks at the sensational case of Adelaide Bartlett, who was accused of murdering her husband with chloroform in 1886.

Newspapers and magazines pored over lurid details of the Bartletts' marriage and the case was responsible for inspiring a rash of fiction.

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The public imagination was particularly stirred when new technology was used to bring criminals to justice.

This episode looks at one such case in which an enterprising railway clerk used the electric telegraph to send a description of a suspected murderer ahead of the train he was travelling on, so that the suspect could be met by police at his journey's end.

And, bringing us right up to the final years of the century, how the funeral of an acclaimed actor - and murder victim - was captured on film for posterity.