Murder of Lord William Russell

Who was Lord William Russell?

Lord William Russell was murdered on Wednesday May 6th 1840 at the age of 73 in his house on No.14 Norfolk Street. At the time of the murder, he was living at the estate with his servants: the housemaid Sarah Mancer, the cook Mary Hannel, the valet Francois Benjamin Courvoisier and the coachman. He was a member of the British aristocratic Russell family and a former member of parliament. His family had a history of being involved with politics and his nephew, John Russell would be the future Prime Minister.



Lord William Russell was murdered in his sleep by his throat being slit. From what the earlier investigators noticed was the intent of robbing/looting Russell’s room for any valuables. On May 6th around half-past six o’clock, the housemaid Sarah Mancer and Courvoisier went to the lower floor of the estate and “found everything in such a state of confusion as to excite a suspicion in her mind that thieves had entered the house with a view to the commission of a robbery.”[1]When Mancer and Courvoisier tried to figure out what happened to the estate, Courvoisier went downstairs and “he immediately took Sarah Mancer into his pantry, pointed to some marks of violence which were perceptible upon the door, which was open, and remarked: “It was here they entered.”[2] The fact that he knew exactly where the “burglars” came in and that he knew this was 100 percent where they entered could have raised some flags.


Who was the suspect?

Investigators assigned to the murder had little leads at the start of who would have the intentions or reason to kill Lord William Russell. The crime scene was made to look like a robbery but closer investigation proved that was not the case. The morning upon arriving to the bedroom of their master, Sarah Mancer noted that throughout the whole altercation, Courvoisier “was found dreadfully agitated, leaning on the bed where the body of his master lay; and although questions were asked him he made no answer, and took no part in the proceedings which succeeded.”[3] The police would find more and more of the missing possessions of Lord William Russell’s around the home which meant that the thief did not get far. The turning point in the investigation was when Superintendent Baker, Inspectors Tedman and Beresford were able to get workmen to remove boards that contained items that belonged to Lord William Russell. Upon “removing a piece of skirting board adjoining the sink in the butlers pantry, found hidden there two bank notes for 10 pounds and 5 pounds each, together with some of the missing rings.”[4] These bank notes were originally missing from a statement Courvoisier gave the coroner during the beginning of the investigation. The investigators also noted that Courvoisier acted as the butler which meant that he would have been the only servant in the household who had access to the pantry where they found all these missing items. The workmen even noted that when Courvoisier was informed of the information at hand, his face was “as white as his shirt.”[5] more belongings of Lord William Russell’s were found around the time. Items such as a waterloo medal, five gold rings. Ten-pound note and the officers found a locket that was taken from Courvoisier’s pocket. He “had missed this relic, to which he attached great value.”[6]All this was adding up to his arrest and when they found a screwdriver in Courvoisier’s possession that matched the scratch marks on the pantry. The last deeming evidence of Courvoisier as their murderer was during his service to Lord Russell, Courvoisier voiced his opinion of his master to the other servants stating he was “testy and dissatisfied, and to declare that if he only had his money he should soon return to Switzerland.”[7] This showed that he needed the money to go home but also that he was not afraid to tell the other servants of what his thoughts were of their master.



The police charged Courvoisier with murder of Lord William Russell’s. After his arrest, more and more evidence was found which made the investigators assigned to the case believe that Courvoisier was their man. Still, many lawyers and officials were not confident with the evidence they have obtained. They worried he would escape conviction. Even though Courvoisier claimed to be not guilty in court, he tried to pass the blame of all this to Sarah Mancer as a last effort of his innocence. He later confessed to the murder by saying that his master was not pleased with him after finding out that he was stealing from him and Courvoisier stated, “my character was gone, and I thought it was the only way I could cover my faults by murdering him.”[8] The murder was to cover up his mistakes from the past and keep his reputation from being ruined. He was found guilty and publically hung outside Newgate Prison on July 6th 1840.



“Confession of Courvoisier.” The Times, October 3, 2017.

Francois Benjamin Courvoisier,” Executed, 6th of July,1940, for murdering Lord William Russell while sleeping in his House in Norfolk Street, Park Lane,

19th Century UK Periodicals, “Horrible Murder of Lord William Russell,” News Readerships. Accessed October 20 2017.


[1] “Francois Benjamin Courvoisier,” Executed, 6th of July,1940, for murdering Lord William Russell while sleeping in his House in Norfolk Street, Park Lane,

[2] “Francois Benjamin Courvoisier”

[3] Ibid

[4] “Horrible Murder of Lord William Russell,” Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (London, England), May 10 1840, New Readerships

[5] “Horrible Murder of Lord William Russell,”

[6] “Francois Benjamin Courvoisier,” Executed, 6th of July,1940, for murdering Lord William Russell while sleeping in his House in Norfolk Street, Park Lane,

[7] “Francois Benjamin Courvoisier.”

[8] “Confession of Courvoisier.” The Times (London, England) 26 June 1840:6. The Times Digital Archive, Web. 3 Oct 2017