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Reginald Birchall (aka Lord Frederick A. Somerset) (25 May 1866 – 14 November 1890) was a convicted murderer who, after due process, was hanged at Woodstock, Ontario.
Birchall was born into a situation of some privilege in Lancashire, England. He attended the University of Oxford where he has the dubious distinction of founding the Black and Tan Club. He became heavily indebted and sold off his inheritance at a discount, purchasing a farm in Woodstock, Ontario. He traveled there with his new wife after an elopement, arriving in 1888. He soon fell into debt there and left again for England, where a scheme to defraud several wealthy people led him back to Canada with one of his victims.
He, supposedly, murdered Fredrick Benwell in order to silence him. Birchall professed his innocence to the end and even wrote a long account of the affair while in prison. This memoir was published in an attempt to create an income for his wife after his death.
The murder took place in Princeton, Ontario in a swamp that would later be called "Benwell Swamp" by the locals. Hunters in the area found the dead man on February 23, 1890, who was apparently dressed quite well. Tags from his clothing had been removed, and a watch was found close to the body.
Birchall had told authorities that Benwell had returned to England, so his story did not add up. The body was exhumed in order for Birchall to identify it.
Once arrested, the trial of Birchall took place at Woodstock, Ontario's Town Hall, as the court house at that time was under construction. It was a world wide media event. Birchall was sentenced on September 30. He was hanged on November 14th, 1890. He was buried in the court yard of the Woodstock City Gaol, where he still remains.
- "Reginald Birchall". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2005.
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