The ghost who returns from the grave to put a wrong to rights is an unlikely but classic tale. However, the John Aubrey account of Mary Barwick’s murder as told in his 1696 Miscellanies, published in 1696, seems to confirm that folklore may sometimes be fact.

On April 14, 1690 a newly married couple, William and Mary Barwick, were out walking not far from the city of York in northern England. They had married only because Mary was pregnant, but now William wanted to be free of her. He threw her into a pond and held her under the water until she drowned.

William then dragged the body into some bushes and returned the following night to bury the corpse. He told Mary’s brother-in-law, Thomas Lofthouse, that he had taken her to his uncle’s house at Selby to be looked after until she had the child.

A week later Thomas was busy watering his garden when he saw a woman walking towards the pond where he was filling his bucket. She sat down on the grass and appeared to be playing with something like a white bag in her lap. When he had emptied his pail, he went to look for her again, but she had vanished. He thought that the apparition looked like his wife’s sister, Mary.

When Thomas told his wife about the figure, she immediately concluded that her sister might be dead. A visit to Selby revealed that Mary was not staying with William’s uncle. On April 24th, Thomas reported he matter to the lord mayor of York.

Arrested that same day, William admitted to throwing his wife into the pond and burying her, but he pleaded not guilty to her murder. Nonetheless the bruises on the body caused by his efforts to keep her under the water, proved his guilt. He was sentenced to death and hanged in chains.

Thomas Lofthouse gave his account of the incident so firmly and simply that it is hard not to accept it as a statement of fact. It is equally hard to offer any other explanation than that Mary’s spirit returned from the grave to ensure that the crime would not remain hidden.


Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects




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