One of the most shocking crimes of Victorian England was the so-called “Bermondsey Horror”. This gruesome crime, engineered by a woman, shook the foundations of a society that considered the fair sex incapable of such evil.
Marie de Roux was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1821. She later moved to London and worked as a lady’s maid. Marie was well treated and enjoyed a rather lavish lifestyle while she worked at Lancaster House under the service of Lady Blantyre.
It is unclear when Marie met Frederick George Manning. Not much is known about Frederick except that he was about Marie’s age, was a railroad worker, and was suspected of robbery. The two became romantically involved although Marie was concerned about his lack of money.
In 1846, Marie accompanied Lady Blantyre on a trip to Boulogne, France. It was there that she met Patrick O’Connor, a rich London-based customs officer twice her age. Upon returning to England, Marie received marriage proposals from both O’Connor and Manning. She ended up choosing the latter after Frederick promised to make more money. They were married on May 27, 1847 and took a house at 3 Miniver Place, Bermondsey.
Frederick could not, however, make money fast enough to please his temperamental wife. Marie maintained contact with O’Connor and, very likely, became his mistress. Marie’s desire for an easy life eventually affected Frederick and she was able to convince him to help her murder O’Connor.
The way they carried out the crime sounds like an Edgar Allan Poe story: On August 9, 1849, Marie invited O’Connor to a private dinner. When he had his back turned, she shot him in the head. The bullet did not kill him and Frederick, who had been hiding in the house, finished him off with a crowbar. The Mannings then covered O’Connor’s body in lime and hid it beneath the flagstones of the kitchen floor.
The next day, Marie somehow managed to break into O’Connor’s room and stole all his valuables. On August 13, two of O’Connor’s friends came to the Mannings’ house and asked if they had seen him. Although Marie lied, the two men thought she looked suspicious and went to the police.
The visit from O’Connor’s friends scared the Mannings and, after a big fight, Marie headed for Scotland with the stolen goods while Frederick escaped to Jersey.
Shortly after their escape, the police searched their house and, after noticing wet mortar on the kitchen flagstones, discovered the mutilated body of Patrick O’Connor.
Marie was arrested in Edinburgh after she tried to sell O’Connor’s railway shares. Frederick was caught on August 21 after being recognized by an old colleague.
The two were held in the Horsemonger Lane Jail. Marie expected her husband to take all the blame and when he remained silent and the jury found them both guilty, she went insane. She went into screaming fits and even attempted to kill herself in her prison cell.
Frederick and Marie Manning were executed on November 13, 1849. At least 30,000 people came to their hanging. The behavior of the crowd and the extremely detailed way The Times reported the event prompted Charles Dickens to write a letter to the editor on November 14. He described the people at the execution as “so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore”. Dickens would later model the character of Hortense in Bleak House after Marie Manning.
The Bermondsey Horror remained in the minds of the English for years afterwards. Black satin dresses, which had been the height of fashion, were no longer stylish after Marie Manning wore one during her execution. Marie later appeared in Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors.
Source: Clark, Richard “Maria & Frederick Manning”