John Coleman was already in the habit of selling bodies to the surgeons of London long before he was caught in February 1825. Although Coleman lived within walking distance of St Thomas’s and Guys hospitals, the body that he was selling that day was offered to St Bartholomew’s Hospital on the other side of the river.
|St Bartholomew’s Hospital early 19c.
As a ‘regular trader in dead bodies’ Coleman, an undertaker by trade, would have been more than aware of the various methods available to him for obtaining cadavers. However, on this particular occasion he was making full advantage of a new method of procurement. All he need was a willing accomplice.
Mrs Crouchman, a lady seemingly down on her luck, lived at 65 Bermondsey St and probably already knew John Coleman, for her husband was a know resurrectionist. Offering her a slice of the profits once the cadaver had been sold, all Mrs Crouchman had to do was to pretend to be an aunt of the recently deceased Anne Wyer, whose body was lying unclaimed in St Giles workhouse.
Together with accomplice Cornelius Fitzgerald, the pair falsely claimed the lifeless body of Anne and made their way to St Bartholomew’s Hospital hoping to make a quick sale. However, Coleman was asking too much for Anne’s corpse and the body was refused by the dissecting room porters.
Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle – Sunday 20 February 1825
(British Newspaper Archive)
Pushing Anne’s body through the streets of London in the back of a cart, Anne was subsequently sold to Mr Dermott, a surgeon with dissecting rooms in Hollen Street. During the trial it transpired that Mr Dermott was in the habit of buying cadavers from Coleman’s accomplice Fitzgerald, begging the question as to why Anne’s body was offered to St Bart’s in the first place. Perhaps Coleman was simply trying to see what price could be obtained for a ‘fresh’ cadaver, chancing his luck with an alternative ‘outlet’ or perhaps he needed to dispose of the body before the Overseers realized that they’d been duped.