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The Red Barn Murder

Dreamed twice by Ann Marten, mid-December 1827 and January 1828

On May 18 1827 Maria Marten, 26-year-old daughter of mole catcher Thomas Marten, left her father's cottage at Polstead for the last time. She said a tearful farewell to her young son, her sister and her stepmother, then set out to meet William Corder, her 24 year old lover, in the Red Barn. At his request she went dressed as a man. Her family never saw or heard from her again. Sketch of the Red Barn in 1828; site of the murder of Maria Marten.

Several months went by and the Marten family had no word from Maria. They could not understand how she could leave her son for so long. Corder's explanations were vague, unsatisfactory or improbable. He told them she was well; that she was staying with a Miss Rowland in Yarmouth. On October 18 1827 he wrote in a letter to Thomas Marten from London... that they were man and wife. He told the family that Maria was staying in Newport, Isle of Wight, and expressed surprise that they had not answered Maria's letter describing the marriage. Trying to cover his tracks, he suggests in a post-script that Mr Marten take down the address for a reply and then burn the letters. In letters to Peter Matthews (the father of Maria's son) he wrote that she had hurt her hand and could not write. Her family felt increasingly alarmed.

Maria's stepmother Ann Marten at last asked her husband to search the Red Barn. She said that she had often dreamed about Maria. Twice, (once before and once after Christmas) she had dreamed that Maria was murdered and buried in the Red Barn. She had not wanted to tell her husband because he would have thought her superstitious. For some time he did nothing, but at last [April 1828] gave in to her nagging. With a friend he went to the barn. Prodding the floor with his mole-spud, he found a soft spot. He dug out some eighteen inches (50cm) of loose earth and discovered a body stuffed into a sack. A green silk handerchief showed through. Mr Marten recognised it as one belonging to Corder which Maria had been wearing when she left the house. They left the body where it lay and called in the constabulary.

Shortly afterwards, William Corder was arrested in London. He was taken to Polstead for the inquest and sent to Bury St Edmunds to stand trial. Throughout the trial he claimed his innocence. Nevertheless he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. Shortly before the sentence was carried out, Corder confessed. He was executed on the Monday August 11, at the county gaol in Bury St Edmunds. Portrait of Ann Marten, who in 1828 said she dreamt twice that her stepdaughter had been murdered, which turned out to be true.

Ann Marten

Thomas Marten's second wife, Ann, was only a few years older than Maria. She had a young son, George. Maria seems to have got on well with her step-mother, who in turn took a motherly interest in Thomas Henry, Maria's son. It was through Mrs. Marten's dreams that the murder was discovered.

It has been suggested that Ann Marten may have known about the murder, and possibly had some part in it. Rumour had it that she was involved with Corder, that Maria was causing them problems and was murdered to get rid of her. Some believe that Mrs. Marten invented the story of the dream to ease her guilty conscience without implicating herself.

It has even been suggested that Ann was having an affair with Corder, that Maria found out, caused difficulty, and had to be stopped. Certainly circumstantial evidence could be made to support this view: the dreams started in mid December 1827, a few days after Corder married Mary Moore. It would probably have taken news of the marriage that long to reach Polstead. Was the dream a coincidence? Could it have been the reaction of a woman scorned?

There is no extant evidence to confirm the truth of these allegations.

Sources: primarily www.stedmundsbury.gov.uk/sebc/visit/redbarn-intro.cfm, plus conspiratorial rumors from good old paranoid Wikipedia, vintage March 2010...



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