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Insight into life of hanged killer.

Byline: By Steve Evans

NUNEATON-BORN Robert Muscutt is returning to his roots from his home in Germany to talk about a notorious ancestor.

He is a direct descendant of Mary Ball, who was the last woman to be executed in Coventry.

The Nuneaton inn-keeper's daughter was hanged in front of an estimated crowd of 20,000 in 1849 for murdering her husband Thomas, who had a reputation as a drinker and womaniser.

Mr Muscutt, aged 61, is the great-great-grandson of Mary Ball. He is set to join a discussion panel in Bedworth this month to talk about the life and death of a 31-year-old ancestor whose public hanging was a massive event in the area in early Victorian times.

Later this year, her story will be told by a theatrical group touring museums and heritage centres across the country under the banner of The Last Women - a production concentrating on the last women to be hanged in Britain for crimes of passion.

Mary Ball's death mask hangs in the Coventry police museum in Little Park Street. On a visit to promote his book, A Life for a Life, her great-great-grandson said: "My feeling is that she should be more pitied than pilloried."

Mr Muscutt is now planning to take part in a discussion panel at Bedworth's Old Meeting United Reformed Church on Tuesday, January 29. He will be joined by his sister, Linda Mayne, and Nuneaton and Bedworth historian John Burton.

The event is part of a programme of talks, workshops and acting masterclasses being staged at the Bed-worth church throughout January by the Coventry-based Triangle Theatre group.

Carran Waterfield, the acclaimed director and performer with Triangle, said: "Mary Ball's hanging was a huge public event back in 1849. People travelled from Nuneaton, Bedworth and Foleshill to see it.

"Mary had a tragic life. By all accounts, she was illiterate and had lost four babies before she was hanged for murdering her husband who was a heavy drinker and a womaniser.

"It is an important part of Nuneaton's heritage and we want to engage people in discussions and workshops before we take the story of The Last Women out on tour."

She said they were also exploring a link between Mary Ball and Nuneaton novelist George Eliot, who were both living around the same time.

The panel discussion in Bedworth on January 29 will start at 7pm. Admission is pounds 8.

MARY BALL'S PATH TO THE GALLOWS

THREE months before her husband's death, Mary had bought a "pennyworth" of arsenic from a local chemist explaining that she wanted to "kill bugs".

Instead, she put the poison on a shelf at her home in Back Lane, Nuneaton.

WHEN her abusive husband Thomas returned from a fishing trip complaining of feeling ill, Mary casually suggested he took the "salts" on the shelf as they would do him good. Her husband died in agony.

She denied murder.

IT was only after a particularly zealous prison chaplain held her hand over a lighted candle to give her an idea of the hell of eternal damnation that Mary, sobbing, finally confessed to the prison governor.

ALL roads into Coventry were crowded as an estimated 20,000 people from Nuneaton, Bedworth and Foleshill crammed into horse-drawn carts and turned out to witness Mary Ball's hanging in 1849.

CAPTION(S):

DARK TALE... Descendant Robert Muscutt is joining a debate on Mary Ball, whose death mask is in Coventry police museum.
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 5, 2008
Words:573
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