An amusing incident is related of a woman in England whose husband, a very wealthy man, died suddenly without any will.
The widow, desirous of securing the whole property, concealed her husband’s death, and persuaded a poor shoe-maker to take his place while a will could be made. Accordingly, he was closely muffled up in bed as if very sick, and a lawyer was employed to write the will. The shoe-maker, in a feeble voice, bequeathed half of all the property to the widow.
“What shall be done with the remainder? ” asked the lawyer.
“The remainder,”‘ replied he, “I give and bequeath to the poor little shoe-maker across the street, who has always been a good neighbor and a deserving man.” thus securing a rich bequest for himself!
The widow was thunderstruck with the man’s audacious cunning, but did not dare to expose the fraud; and so two rogues shared the estate.
The Herald of Progress, 21 May 1864: p. 222
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil will point out that this story is very likely to be an “urban legend,” to judge by the many variants and repetitions found in the papers, but that does not make it any less plausible.
The widow of a man who was careless enough to die intestate generally only inherited a third of his estate. If you are interested in the arcane law covering subject of such vital interest to ladies who could have no property of their own until the Married Women’s Property Act was passed a few years later, please see this link. So it is no wonder that the widow was keen to perpetrate a fraud. She does not seem to have been alone. Such impositions involving death, wills, and mourning were a staple of the nineteenth-century press. No trick was too low, where a bequest was concerned:
AN APPARITION OF HIS MOTHER
Was Invoked by Fakirs to Swindle H.S.H. Cavendish the Great British Explorer.
London, May 14. The chancery court has ordered the cancellation of the deed by which H.S.H. Cavendish, the explorer, provided that his property should go to Mrs. Strutt, wife of Major C.H. Strutt, and her children, to the exclusion of the plaintiff’s own wife, who was Isabel Jay, formerly leading lady of the Savoy theatre.
Mr. Cavendish, in his appeal to the chancery court, charged Maj. Strutt and Mrs. Strutt with influencing him through table turning, and claimed that Mrs. Strutt obtained the deed by pretending to be the ghost of his, the plaintiff’s, mother, and by representing the latter as speaking from heaven and advising him to so dispose of his property. The Winnipeg [Manitoba, Canada] Tribune 14 May 1903: p. 9
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You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.