Charles Peace: King of the Cat Burglars
Despite his frequent terms of imprisonment and lack of a stable home life, Peace enjoyed the unquestioning loyalty of his wife, the former Hannah Ward, a widow with a son from her previous marriage. Over the course of their marriage, Hannah presented Charles with a daughter and a son, who died in infancy while Peace was incarcerated. It was the tradition of Peace's family to compose small poems in honor of the deceased members of the family, which Charlie did about the son he never saw: "Farewell, my dear son, by us all beloved, Thou art gone to dwell in the mansions above. In the bosom of Jesus Who sits on the throne Thou art anxiously waiting to welcome us home."
In 1875, Charles Peace was released from Wakefield Jail and with his family moved to the village of Darnell, outside Sheffield, where a series of unfortunate incidents would unfold and eventually lead him to the gallows.
Charlie had the misfortune of coming to town at about the same time the village welcomed its new vicar, the Rev. J.H. Littlewood, formerly the prison chaplain at Wakefield. Littlewood recognized Peace and knew his history, but Peace proclaimed that he was now on the straight and narrow path.
"Have mercy on me and my family," Hall records Peace as begging. "I've completely reformed. I'm going straight and trying to build a new life."
The parson agreed to give Peace a chance provided that he not miss a single Sunday service. During his time as a member of Littlewood's parish, Charlie was the model of decorum. He led the Bible school and was a frequent contributor to the church. What Littlewood didn't know was that the source of Charlie's largess was the surrounding community.
In Darnell, the Peace family lived near Mr. Arthur Dyson, an American civil engineer and his English wife, Katherine. "Mrs. Dyson is described as an attractive woman, 'buxom and blooming'; she was dark-haired, and about twenty-five years of age," Irving writes.
Surprisingly, the 6-foot-5-inch Dyson was no match for the diminutive Peace, and Charlie, who apparently had a roving eye, soon became enamored of Katherine. The extent of their relationship remains in dispute to this day, with Peace swearing as he readied himself for the hangman, that Katherine Dyson was at one time his mistress. Mrs. Dyson, for her part absolutely refused to admit anything other than an innocent friendship with the burglar.
For a time, the two kept company, with Peace escorting Mrs. Dyson to the various public houses around Sheffield. Charlie and Katherine posed for a photograph together at a fair, a disputed event that would come up later at Peace's last trial. He claimed the portrait proves there was more to their relationship than mere friendship, while she testified that Peace managed to "drop" into the picture at the last moment evidence of his unhealthy attachment.
"There was no question that on one occasion Peace and Mrs. Dyson had been photographed together, that he had given her a ring, and that he had been in the habit of going to music halls and public-houses with Mrs. Dyson, who was a woman of intemperate habits," Irving wrote.
Whether there was an affair or not, whatever relationship did exist between Peace and the Dysons soured during the summer of 1875, and the end result would be murder.