Remembering some of the darkest crimes in Great Yarmouth's history

The Tolhouse Museum This is the oldest civic building in Great Yarmouth.March 2010Picture: James Bas

Tolhouse Museum in Great Yarmouth, which was Tolhouse Gaol, where the trial of 11 people accused of witchcraft was held. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2010

A shoelace strangler, a witch trial, and a family charged with murder... they are all tales to be found on the darker side of our seaside town's timeline.

Here are some of the most notorious crimes in Great Yarmouth's history.

The Neal Family murderers

In 1825, the Neal family - comprised of Mary and her children Susan and William - were accused of murdering shoemaker William Halls and his family.

William Neal was an apprentice to Mr Hall and he eventually confessed to putting arsenic in the Halls family's boiler, which they cooked their dinner in.

The whole Neal family were condemned to death, receiving the final sentence of its kind issued by the Yarmouth Sessions Court. 

However, Mary, Susan and William were not hanged and eventually had their sentences commuted to transportation to Australia.

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The fatal robbery of Harriet Candler

One evening in 1844, Harriet Candler was fatally struck over the head in her shop in Howard Street and the contents of the till was robbed by a group of men.

Her neighbour Samuel Yarham turned himself in, saying he was part of the gang that attacked Harriet.

The 104 feet high Falcon Tower crane at Norwich Castle. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A man was hanged at Norwich Castle for the murder of Great Yarmouth shopkeeper Harriet Candler. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

In April 1845, three men stood trial for the murder with Yarham as the chief witness, but all three were acquitted.

Thinking he could no longer be charged with Harriet's murder after being a witness, Yarham made public statements about the crime.

He was later found guilty of the murder and hanged outside Norwich Castle in 1846, in front of an estimated crowd of 30,000 people.

A shoelace strangler

The body of a young woman was found on the shore next to where the Pleasure Beach now sits on the morning of September 23, 1900.

Identified as Mary Jane Bennett of London, the victim had been staying in Yarmouth under a false name when she was strangled with a shoelace.

Her husband, Herbert John Bennett, was accused of the crime and was tried in London but he insisted he was in the capital at the time of the murder.

The Pleasure Beach reopening on Saturday 11th July 2020. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Pleasure Beach reopening on Saturday 11th July 2020. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

He was hanged in Norwich prison for the crime, however, many believed him to be innocent.

Twelve years later, the body of another young girl, Dora May Gray, was found in the same spot having also been strangled with a shoelace.

No one was ever charged for her murder.

Great Yarmouth's own witch trial

In 1645, Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins was called to the town and 11 people, including two men, were tried before the court in Tolhouse Gaol on charges of witchcraft.

The Tolhouse Museum This is the oldest civic building in Great Yarmouth.March 2010Picture: James Bas

The Tolhouse Museum This is the oldest civic building in Great Yarmouth.March 2010Picture: James BassCopy: For: EDP NewsEastern Daily Press © 2010 (01603) 772434 - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2010

Five of the 11 were found guilty and were hanged.

Great Yarmouth's links to witch trials extend all the way to the notorious trials held in Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1690s.

Rebecca Nurse - who features in Arthur Miller's play based on the trials, The Crucible - and her sister Mary Easty were executed after the case. Both were born in Great Yarmouth.

The murder of an unnamed Dutchman

In 1735, group of Dutchmen were drinking in the Tuns Inn, located in historic Row 108. When the group left, one remained for more drinks.

Row 108, where Tuns Inn stood, still exists in Great Yarmouth today on South Quay.

Row 108, where Tuns Inn stood, still exists in Great Yarmouth today on South Quay. - Credit: Google

He was never seen alive again but his body was found in the River Yare with its ears cut off.

The landlady of the Tuns Inn, Elizabeth Thompson, and nine other women were arrested for the crime.

Thompson was found guilty of being an accessory to murder.

She was sentenced to death but was offered a free pardon if she would name the actual murderer. She refused to do so and was hanged.

It is said a man confessed to the murder on his deathbed.