By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
For several months a strange creature, or the image of a bizarre ghost haunted Hammersmith and Turnham Green, a village on the outskirts of London.
Jan. 6, 1804, London England
Those living in the area were wary to leave their homes after sundown. The ghost was credited with breaking windows, and even maiming some of those who lived in the area. A local newspaper wrote about an encounter with the strange wraith.
On December 15, 1803, during the night servants belonging to a brew house situated on the outskirts of town, were returning with a friend. THey they were met by the ghost dressed in what they described as "to resemble the hide of a calf, wtih a pair of enormously large horns and cloven feet."
What would have been a local story that with time faded, served to set a legal precedent in England concerning self-defense.
It was suspected the apparition was that of a suicide victim; a man who had slit his throat. Contrary to religious norms, he had been buried in consecrated ground. This would not allow his soul to rest.
In January 1804, Francis Smith, an excise officer patrolled with the local citizens. He shot and killed a bricklayer named Thomas Millwood. Smith thought Millwood was the infamous Hammersmith ghost.
There was no organized police force at the time, and the citizens could only look to themselves to form patrols. By then there was a suspicion that it was not a real ghost, but someone posing as a spirit.
William Girdler, a night-watchman stood at the corner of Beaver Lane on January 3, 1805 at around 10:30 p.m. He crossed paths with Francis Smith who was armed with a shotgun, and they agreed to meet after Girdler called the hour at 11 p.m.
They parted ways and soon after Girdler heard a shot ring out, and with John Locke and George Stowe they met with Smith who seemed agitated. At the scene was Millwood's body. Soon the constable arrived and took Smith into custody. A surgeon examined the body and determine that death came about as a result of "a gunshot wound on the left side of the lower jaw with small shot, about size No. 4, one of which had penetrated the vertebrae of the neck, and injured the spinal marrow."
It was not the first time Millwood was mistaken as the ghost. He was a bricklayer who normally wore white clothing as part of his trade.
Smith was tried for murder, and found guilty even though he had no malice in the act. He was sentenced to hang and then it was commuted to one year's hard labor. The publicity of the case forced John Graham, an elderly shoemaker, to admit he pretended to be the ghost by draping himself with a white sheet. There is no record of the shoemaker ever being punished. The reason he gave for the prank was revenge against his apprentices.
Sightings died down until 1824, but it was the appearance in the 1830s, of Spring Heeled Jack that ended any stories of the Hammersmith ghost.
In 1988, on a similar case the Privy Council wrote into law that if a person genuinely believes that a crime is being committed, it cannot be held against him if turns out to be wrong.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer