Catherine Hayes (1690 – 9 May 1726), sometimes spelled Catharine Hayes, was an English murderer.
Catherine Hall was born near Birmingham in 1690. At the age of 16 she married John Hayes, a carpenter. The couple moved to London and set up a small shop in Oxford Road, Tyburn, while renting lodgings. Towards the end of 1725 two men named Wood and Billings lodged with the couple. Catherine Hayes did not have any children, although later sources reported that she did, as she accused her husband of having killed them. Catherine Hayes and John Hayes lived with two lodgers, Thomas Wood and Thomas Billings. It is likely that Billings was her son, and they were also lovers ('Select trials of the Old Bailey, 1742). Wood, Billings and Hayes plotted the murder for Hayes' money. On 1 March 1726 they got him drunk and then killed him. They cut up the body and flung a trunkful of body parts into a pond at Marylebone. The head was cast into the Thames and was found the next day. It was displayed in the churchyard of St Margaret's, Westminster, for several days, and this resulted in John Hayes being identified.
On March 24 the trunk and limbs were discovered. Catherine Hayes and Billings had meanwhile been arrested on a warrant. Wood was captured shortly afterwards, and confessed. Billings then admitted his complicity, but Hayes denied all knowledge of the murder. At the trial Hayes pleaded 'not guilty', but was convicted of petty treason, and sentenced to be burnt alive. Wood and Billings were sentenced to be hanged. The case excited much popular attention, and many noblemen and gentlemen attended the trial.
Before May 9, the day fixed for the execution, Wood died in Newgate Prison. Hayes unsuccessfully tried to poison herself. On May 9 she was tied to a stake at Tyburn with a halter round her neck. One early report stated that "the executioner was foiled in an endeavour to strangle her by the burning of the rope, and the woman was finally killed by a piece of wood which was thrown at her head and dashed out her brains". Later it was stated that Hayes was "the last woman in England to be burnt alive for petty treason (though the burning of women's bodies after execution continued until 1790)". Although this is not true, the last woman to be burned in England was Miss Bowman in 1789. Billings was hanged in chains in Marylebone Fields. Ballads were written about Hayes's crime and a correspondent of the 'London Journal' compared the murder of John Hayes with the play Arden of Feversham. William Makepeace Thackeray based his story of 'Catherine,' which first appeared in 'Fraser's Magazine,' 1839-40, on the career of Catherine Hayes.
- "The case of Catherine Hayes". Early Eighteenth-century newspaper reports: a sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton. Retrieved 5 December 2010.