A write-up on this subject has been on my site that deals with my work as an artist and writer, because I’ve been sporadically researching it as a potential new film project. I’m repeating and expanding it here because I think the subject is interesting in its own right. It’s another in my series of Suffolk weirdnesses; see also Ipswich smells like space and my visit to the weapons research facility at Orford Ness.
In May 1827, Maria Marten was shot to death by the father of her child, William Corder, at a farm near Polstead in Suffolk. This was and is a bucolic location whose appearance can be judged from the many paintings done of the area by the Suffolk painter John Constable, he of ‘The Hay Wain’, who focused his attention only a few miles east at Dedham and East Bergholt. The illegitimate child had already been disposed of secretly by Marten and Corder. William buried Maria in a shallow grave in a barn on his tenant farm, where she was found accidentally nearly a year later by her own father after he ”put down a mole spike into the floor… and brought up something black, which I smelt and thought it smelt like decayed flesh.” Corder had fled to London, but was eventually caught and hanged.
What makes this typically sordid and revolting murder different from others committed before it is that “The Murder in the Red Barn“ was one of the first whose details were promulgated and elaborated by sensational media reporting of the kind that subsequently became the norm throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st, leading to public hysteria and wild overestimations of how widespread murder and violent crime actually are in Britain.* Continue Reading