On October 24, 1890 a clerk found a dead woman in the middle of the road, her head cut nearly clean from her neck. Later that night a bloody bassinet was found leaning against a residential gate. The following morning at dawn, a hawker found a dead baby hidden under a nettle bush. Two years earlier, the murderer nicknamed Jack the Ripper began butchering women in the nearby Whitechapel district, causing an international sensation and striking fear into the heart of Londoners. Were the Hampstead murders the Ripper’s handiwork?
Almost certainly not.
Instead, the murder of mother and child turned out to be the final degradation suffered at the hands of a marginalized and ill young woman named Mary Pearcey. Though Mary Pearcey was eventually executed for the crime she undoubtedly committed, lingering questions and unsolved mysteries remain: Did she act alone? Was she mentally competent to stand trial? Was the double murder premeditated, a spontaneous act of vengeance or the result of impulses dulled by traumatic brain injury? In Woman at the Devil’s Door, author Sarah Beth Hopton reconstructs the life, loves, murder, trial and execution of Mary Eleanor Pearcey, one of Britian’s most violent female murderesses.
Sarah Beth Hopton is an author and academic working on the forthcoming book Woman at the Devil’s Door: The Complete Case of the Hampstead Murders. She is finishing her Ph.D. in Rhetoric at the University of South Florida and teaches Creative NonFiction and English at Florida Southern College. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her Welsh Corgi, Abner, who is certain Mary did it.