Sweeney Todd became known as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and his story has been the subject of the original Penny Dreadful, books and more latterly, both a blockbuster movie and show stopping musical. Thought to have had over 150 victims, Sweeney Todd truly does qualify as a serial killer. So heinous were his deeds that they even gave rise to the term ‘cut throat razor’ an expression that still makes most of us shiver today.
Sweeney Todd was born in the East End of London on October 16, 1756 at number 85 Brick Lane. In those day’s London was still developing and spreading out and Brick Lane itself was in parts little more than a country lane that led out to Bethnal Green and the brickfields. Both his parents were associated with the silk trade which was centred in the area of Spitalfields.
Wrongly accused of theft at the age of fourteen, Todd was sentenced to a five year stretch in the notorious Newgate Prison. Whilst incarcerated behind the walls of Newgate, Todd was befriended by Elmer Plummer an old barber who was serving time for fraud. This friendship extended to Plummer teaching the young Sweeney how to cut hair and shave customers – and how to relieve them of their valuables by picking their pockets. By the time he left prison, Sweeney Todd had served his apprenticeship and on his release in 1775 he set up his own barber shop at 186 Fleet Street.
Todd’s first murder is considered to have been in the spring of 1785, when a newspaper report describes a murder of a countryman in Fleet Street where the assailant, once the victim’s throat had been slashed, ran off and disappeared into a typical London fog.
Within the infamous barber shop customers sat in a barber’s chair that was fixed to a revolving trapdoor. When activated, the chair revolved depositing the poor unsuspecting customer, at that point still alive, into the cellar. As one chair swung over, a matching empty chair would swing through to take its place. It is not believed that Sweeney Todd murdered in his shop, rather this was done in the cellar where the fallen body would be lying unconscious on the cellar floor.
Having left his shop immediately for the cellar, Sweeney Todd would unfurl his razor and slash the throat of his victim. He would use what we now refer to as a cut throat razor.
Initially disposal of the bodies was not a problem for Todd as he simply left the bodies in the burial crypt of St Dunstan’s Church hidden among the numerous family crypts. This was not to last as it was soon to become impracticable to hide any more bodies there.
The problem was solved by the creation of a removable wall between the crypt and the basement bakery of his pie maker lover Margery Lovett (although in some instances it is believed she was Sarah Lovett). With this established as the route for disposal, the sordid business of filling pies was begun.
The pair’s undoing was the smell of rotting flesh which drifted through the church. For months no one investigated, despite the fact that no one had been buried in the crypt for years, until the stench of rotting flesh grew too great and the Bow Street Runners were brought in to investigate. From this point it was not long before both Sweeney Todd and Margery Lovett were both arrested.
Margery Lovett almost immediately confessed all to the police and Sweeney Todd ended his life at the end of the hangman’s rope outside Newgate Prison early in January 1802. Lovett however was to cheat the hangman’s noose by poisoning herself in her cell.
Gruesome; absolutely. Fascinating; surely. Unbelievable; almost. What a story and what a fantastic Halloween costume party theme. This has got everything. Blood and gore, a love interest and scope for the most outrageous gore fest. Most good Halloween costume stores and internet suppliers have Sweeney Todd and Margery Lovett costumes along with loads of gory props for you to complete your themed party decorations. And what about serving pies as your buffet table – bet you don’t need many! And as a couples theme party costumes this also works.
Not a party of the little ones, and maybe one that will shock at first BUT that’s part of the Halloween spirit. If it’s your party and you are Sweeney and Margery, you could ask all your guests to dress as the victims with slashed throats. Ghoulish but great.