The murder of Maria Marten, a case called The Red Barn Murder got a lot of media coverage in England because of the strange circumstances. The murder was allegedly solved by the appearance of the ghost of the victim, haunting people’s dreams.

‘”If you’ll meet me at the Red Barn as sure as I have life
I will take you to Ipswich Town and there make you my wife.”
This lad went home and fetched his gun, his pick-axe and his spade.
He went unto the Red Barn and there he dug her grave.With her heart so light she thought no harm, to meet her love did go
He murdered her all in the barn and he laid her body low
– The Folksong The Murder of Maria Marten

The year of 2004. The Place? at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. A skeleton, reassembled so many times and exhibited, used as a teaching aid in the West Suffolk Hospital. It is almost possible to forget that the people hanging there, next to the teacher, used to be a living human. What cruel fate it is, to always be on display. But then we can wonder, why? Why do you hang there? Is this your punishment? Did you do something? And who hangs beside you? The question is always asked.

“Who is that skeleton?”

Beside you is someone infamous. Jonathan Wild, the notorious gang leader in Britain, known as the great corrupter. The students might know his name, his crime. But who are you? Does anyone remember your name?

The Skeleton of the Murderer William Corder

The skeleton sitting in the classroom actually belongs to William Corder, a man that would end up in the infamous case of The Red Barn Murder.

Read Also: Another infamous murder trial involving ghosts is The Infamous Haunted Lizzie Borden House 

He was a boy like any other, born in 1804 to a prosperous tenant farmer in Suffolk, England. He was nicknamed Foxey at school and was a bright kid. He had his whole life in front of him and he had some dreams of becoming a journalist or a teacher as he had some talent for writing. But there was a darkness in Corder that eventually would devour him.

Corder’s father liked his brothers much better according to the rumours around town, and he was sent to London to find work, not wanting to fund his sons dreams. He was said to be a liar and a cheater, thereof the name Foxey most likely. He was also known for petty theft, like when he sold his father’s pig. Yes, his father’s pig.

In London, he fell into bad company and spent all of the money his father gave him. He was a well known ladies man and all around an untrusty fellow. But Corder’s biggest crime was the Red Barn Murder and being found out by the ghost of Maria Marten, the woman he murdered.

Maria Martens Life and Death

After a while, William was called back to the farm from his wild time in London. There he met Maria, daughter of a mole catcher in the same small village, two years older than him and the likes of William Corder didn’t immediately catch her interest.

The murder of Maria Marten, a case called The Red Barn Murder got a lot of media coverage in England because of the strange circumstances. The murder was allegedly solved by the appearance of the ghost of the victim, haunting people's dreams.
Maria Marten: The young girl ended up being the victim in the Red Barn Murder/Wikimedia

Maria Marten was 17 years old with a taste for finer things with a curse on her head and would end up as the victim in The Red Barn Murder. There is the story about her that a fortune teller once said that she wouldn’t reach old age, but would have many lovers and riches.

Before getting involved with William Corder she was actually seeing Williams older brother, Thomas. He was the oldest and also the fathers favorite and the two got into a relationship that was doomed from the start.

Thomas Corder wanted to keep the relationship secret as she wasn’t regarded of the same status as himself, being poorer and of a family with a “low” status. The Corders were after all, prosperous farmers.

That didn’t stop him from getting involved with her though and Maria Marten fell pregnant with Thomas child. Thomas left her when she told him about her pregnancy, perhaps hoping it would convince him to go for her after all.

It did not, and she gave birth to his child alone, but the child died a couple of weeks later. Maria then got into a relationship with a Peter Mathews, a middle age man who also dropped her after giving him a son called, Thomas Henry in 1824.

Indeed she had some lovers, perhaps some riches. And indeed she wouldn’t be alive for long.

William Corder and Maria Marten’s Relationship

When William Corder came home from London, bad luck struck his family. His father died and his brothers got very ill, leaving him to manage the farm together with his mother. And this is were he got to know Maria and they got involved in a relationship. But it wasn’t a happy match from either of their families stands. She on her side was already left with a ruined reputation by a Corder. And from the Corder’s perspective, she was a fallen woman and not from a prosperous family like theirs.

The murder of Maria Marten, a case called The Red Barn Murder got a lot of media coverage in England because of the strange circumstances. The murder was allegedly solved by the appearance of the ghost of the victim, haunting people's dreams.
The Red Barn Murder: The old barn close to their houses was the scene of the Red Barn Murder and later a tourist attraction. It is now burned down./Wikimedia

This didn’t stop them meeting, although they met in secret. Often at a red barn right by Marias house. It was called that because of the red tiles on the roof and would later be a tourist place as the location of where The Red Barn Murder happened. But the secret of their relationship was not to last for long, as Maria became pregnant again. Maria wanted William to marry her, and according to him, he said yes.

At the same time that winter, William’s brother and Maria’s ex-lover, Thomas was walking over a frozen lake. The ice cracked and Thomas went under, drowning. William was now the owner of the farm as the only son.

Between Maria being pregnant, the farm being in financial troubles and his brother dying, it seems that it put a toll on him. He put Maria in a lodging at Sudbury, a couple of miles away from home to have their baby. But this too should not live and died soon after. William buried the child in a field and there have been speculations that this was not a natural death and that he might have killed their love child as well. And these day, who could really tell?

The Red Barn Murder

Maria and William started to argue about some money that may have been stolen, they argued about the burial of the child and how it looked like William would not marrying Maria after all. At one point the pair made a plan, when William said they should elope to Ipswich. She would come dressed as a boy and they would meet in the Red Barn were they had met countless of times before.

Read Also: Maria Marten got killed by a partner, we have multiple stories telling the same. How about checking out The Ghost of La Faraona Haunting the Agua Caliente Hotel or The Prisoner of Château de Puymartin

Why would William Corder elope now? Now that he didn’t have a father or older brother to interfere? One of the problems the couple had was with Maria and her crimes. It wasn’t necessarily unlikely or weird that they would like to run away, as Maria had several charges on her for bearing illegitimate children. Criminal at that point in time.

The days before their plan was set into motion was the last time Maria Marten was seen alive. William began acting odd and a lot of questions were asked about her. Where was Maria? Wasn’t he going to Ipswich with her?

He told the people asking she had gone ahead to Ipswich, but then he changed the story, and told she had gone to Great Yarmouth and wouldn’t be able to return yet. Then he changed the story again, and he said he was meeting Maria and that they were going to marry. He said he felt unwell and traveled to Isle of Wight, writing back home that they were married and happy there. He said he was sorry that Maria couldn’t write herself as she had hurt her hand and wondered why some of her letters hadn’t made its way back home.

The Ghost of Maria Marten Haunting the Dreams

This vague and strange story didn’t sit well with her family though. The Marten family did not believe William and his excuses as to why they hadn’t seen or heard from her. But in a strange twist of fate, she would find other means to contact her family.

Maria had a young stepmother back in Polstead, Ann Marten. She was troubled by strange and scary dreams about her stepdaughter. Twice Ann Marten had woken from a terrible dream that she herself knew to be true. When she shared them with her husband they looked for Maria in their town and found her.

Read Also: Another ghost story about a ghost that allegedly help solve her own murder case, read about The Greenbrier ghost in The Ghost that Went to Court

The dreams to her stepmother told that Maria had been murdered in the Red Barn buried under the floor and not gone to Isle of Wight at all. Her husband, Maria’s father was sent to the barn and looked for his daughter, prodding the ground with a mole-spike. There he discovered the remains of his daughter, brutally murdered and discarded under the floor for a long time.

Maria was shot as well as stabbed multiple times to death. They brought her to The Cock Inn and, decomposed as she was, her sister Nancy identified her from the clothes, the hair and a gap in her teeth. Around Maria’s neck they found a green handkerchief. According to the witnesses it belonged to William Corder. Was she also strangled? Was she even dead before he buried her in the grain storage bin her father found her in?

The Trial of The Red Barn Murder

Back in Ealing were William had fled, he knew nothing of the mysterious dreams and the discovery of Maria under the barn. Time went by and William needed a wife. He put an ad in The Times and asked for a wife. He picked Mary Moore and they set up a young ladies school in Ealing, West London. He was moving forward in his life. But Maria wasn’t forgotten yet.

Boiling some eggs at home the police came knocking at his door and apprehended him. First he denied that he knew of this Maria Marten, but the evidence was there and he was brought back to Suffolk.

And the press was on this, coming from all across the country to behold the spectacle of his trial and the strange circumstances around it. The case of The Red Barn Murder even got a play on stage before Corder even came to trial, which they actually sold tickets to.

The murder of Maria Marten, a case called The Red Barn Murder got a lot of media coverage in England because of the strange circumstances. The murder was allegedly solved by the appearance of the ghost of the victim, haunting people's dreams.
The Red Barn Murder Frenzie: The execution of William Corder, the Red Barn Murderer was a popular event and thousands of people attended/Wikimedia

Forensic pathology was not as advanced yet and it was impossible to determined what of the things that killed Maria. That is why he was charged with nine different murder charges, where shooting, strangling, stabbing and burying alive was a couple of them.

By that powerful engine of the press,” he said, “I have been described…as the most depraved of human monsters,” he said of the media coverage.

Corder’s defense was articulate, but improbable, claiming Maria herself had taken her own life, but he was found guilty on the circumstantial and medical evidence, and sentenced to hang.

It was the Chief Baron Alexander that was the judged, and he added that his dead body was to be dissected and anatomized, almost like a second punishment.

The Execution of William Corder

The execution was a great play and melodrama itself, and several thousands of spectators had tickets to the show of William Corder’s last moments. During his last days the prison chaplain had tried to get a confession from William who had denied all of the charges against him. Finally, William Cordery admitted to killing MAria by accident during one of their many quarrels. What he denied was stabbing her. Perhaps it was the mole-spike her father looked for her with that made those wounds?

The murder of Maria Marten, a case called The Red Barn Murder got a lot of media coverage in England because of the strange circumstances. The murder was allegedly solved by the appearance of the ghost of the victim, haunting people's dreams.
Hanged: The Execution of The Red Barn Murder/Wellcome Library no. 43542i

In any case, he took the punishment for all of her injuries. His last words were:  “I am guilty; my sentence is just; I deserve my fate; and, may God have mercy on my soul.” He was left hanging for an hour, most likely in agony before he died.

After his death he was transported to Shire Hall were he was left for science as the sentence was. But many of the things done to his body after death was highly unscientific. For one,his skin was removed, tanned and used as a book cover that described his crimes and live. Like the most bizarre biography.

What happened that day? Was Maria’s mother psychic? She was only around a year older than Maria, and had not exhibited similar dreams before. Perhaps it’s a bit odd that her dreams started just after news of Williams marriage to Mary Moore. And there were also some rumors that linked her as a lover with William.

What happened skeleton hanging in the lecture hall? Truth be told, it isn’t even William. At least, not all of it. After his hanging, he was chopped up, his body dissected in front of anatomy students, perhaps even used as an experiment with galvanism.

The Red Barn Murder Frenzie

Perhaps the most gruesome thing was that none of the people involved were left in peace after their death, as the story about the Red Barn Murder was a sensational tale and people flocked to the location as well as tried to get a hold of some sort of suveniers from the case.

After the execution, William Corden’s ear was sold, his skull was taken by Dr John Kilner who collected The Red Barn Murder memorabilia. Even pieces of the rope he was hanged in was cut up and sold for a guinea. Perhaps the disturbance of the dead came back to haunt the living that looked at their death as some sort of amusing spectacle?

After many strange and tragic events that happened after The Red Barn Murder enthusiast Dr John Kilner took the skull for himself to his collection, he believed that the skull was cursed and gave it to ta friend. But bad fortune kept plaguing the two men and in the end they decided to pay for a Christian burial to lift the curse of the skull of the murderer William Corder.

Maria also kept being disturbed after The Red Barn Murder. A lock of her hair was sold at two guineas and Polstead with her cottage, the Red Barn and her grave became a tourist attraction and people started chipping away at it so it completely disappeared. The grave as well as the Barn, planks, roof tiles and all sold as macabre souvenirs.

After 2004, the skeleton of William Corder, or at leas what was left of him was removed from the classroom and finally put to rest six feet under.

But the rumors still lingers about the ghost of Maria haunting her stepmother’s dreams, about what really happened that night of The Red Barn Murder. But maybe it is time William got some peace, having served over 200 years for his crimes.

More like this

Newest Posts


What really happened with the notorious murder at the Red Barn in Polstead? | Great British Life

Murder in the Red Barn—Maria Marten’s Tragic Love Story – Owlcation
William Corder, the Red Barn Killer – HeadStuff
The Red Barn Murder Revisited! – Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!


Leave a Reply