The Swamp of Death: A True Tale of Victorian Lies and Murder

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9780141008271: The Swamp of Death: A True Tale of Victorian Lies and Murder

Early in 1890, three young gentlemen left England for the backwoods of Canada, each hoping to make a fortune. Within days of their arrival, one was dead and the other two had been arrested for murder. A tainted investigation and corrupt trial followed, minutely reported by sensation-hungry pressmen, and their use of submarine telegraph cables ensured that the case became an international cause celebre. But key questions remained. Who was the real murderer? Was the killing premeditated? What was the motive? Rebecca Gowers uses letters, press reports and memoirs to piece together a true tale as vivid and gripping as the best murder mysteries of Victorian fiction.

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From the Inside Flap:

How an English immigration swindle became an internationally notorious murder mystery in Victorian Canada.

In 1889, Reginald Birchall, a well-bred young Englishman, advertises in the London papers for a partner to buy a share in his Canadian horse farm. Two young men of good family -- Douglas Pelly and Frederick Benwell -- sign on. But when their troubled journey to Canada stalls inexplicably in Niagara Falls and Benwell mysteriously disappears, Pelly thinks Birchall might be trying to kill him. Then Benwell’s frozen body turns up near Woodstock, Ontario, with two bullets in the back of his head.

So begins The Swamp of Death, British journalist Rebecca Gowers’s investigation into a villainous scam, a murder and the ensuing trial -- a fiasco of injustice and bias. Taking its name from a Victorian pulp novel that wildly sensationalized the story, Gowers’s account illuminates how staid and proper values clashed with the public’s insatiable thirst for the grizzly delights and dark drama of a heinous crime.

A fascinating investigation of murder, prejudice and the fate of English younger sons in early Canada, The Swamp of Death adeptly pursues the many questions left behind by a colonial murder that caused an international uproar -- doubts about Birchall’s guilt, a self-described “great detective” with suspect methods of investigation, and a newspaper war’s manipulation of the facts, which in the end sent Birchall to the gallows.
From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author:

Rebecca Gowers has previously been engaged in research at Oxford University on the relationships between true crime, Victorian detective literature, police detectives, and nineteenth-century technology. She has contributed to a wide range of newspapers and magazines. This is her first book.

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