Monday, February 11, 2008

Bill Sheen

Radnorshire must reluctantly lay claim to one of Nineteenth Century London's most notorious criminals, Bill Sheen, a man who must surely have been one of the models for Dickens' Bill Sikes.

Sheen came to prominence in 1827 when he cut off the head of his girlfriend's infant son. Fleeing from Whitechapel to Radnorshire he was tracked by a London constable, Robert Davis, to Penybont and eventually taken at the nearby home of a relative, Lane House, Llanbadarn Fawr.

You can read a report of Sheen's first trial here, He was found not guilty on a technicality, a confusion over the actual name of the murdered child. A second trial was held and Sheen was again acquited on the grounds that you could not be tried twice for the same crime.

This stroke of good fortune did not induce Sheen to follow the straight and narrow. By now something of a minor celebrity, his assaults and burglaries were widely reported in the press. A girlfriend, one Mary Anne Sullivan's throat was cut and she was left for dead after being brutally kicked, Sheen was jailed for two years. Perhaps the clearest evidence that Sheen may have been the model for Sikes comes from the fact that he kept brothels in Spitalfields which were also home to between 30 and 40 boys and girls, some aged as young as nine, who spent their days begging and thieving throughout the city. Read about them here, pages 149 and 150.

No comments: