The Steddy Hole Murders & The Tragic Letters of Dedea Redanies

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This is the true and tragic story of how a distorted and misaligned passion – masquerading as deep and everlasting love – can twist and turn into the horror, torture and despair of a murderous deed.

A deed beyond understanding, its devastating destruction of the families concerned unimaginable as they are left with no tangible sense of why it happened, or indeed, if they were somehow unwittingly complicit in its ugly performance.

First we need to meet the man at the centre of this emotional tragedy – his name is Dedea Redanies. He was born in Belgrade in 1831 and we meet him in 1856 at twenty-five years old. He is private soldier number 2520, 2nd battalion, 4th company British Swiss Legion stationed at Shorncliff in Kent, England.

He appears to be a well-travelled young man having also served in the Turkish army and then spending some time with the Italian army in Milan before joining the Swiss regiment stationed near Dover in England. I have been unable to locate a clear sketch or image of Redanies, merely a crude self-portrait – the context of which will become clear later in the story;

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He was a skilled linguist and was able to offer his services as an interpreter, assisting at the military hospital in Dover and other general duties such as portering.

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One night on a visit to the local theatre, he met seventeen year old Maria Back and her eighteen year old sister Caroline. They got on well and he visited their home to meet the sisters’ parents Mary and James.

The parents ran a local laundry and the nearby army base were good customers so it was not long before they kindly added in Dedea’s laundry – much to his gratitude – and it soon became clear that Dedea had fallen in love with Caroline and it seemed to be mutual. James and Mary had no problems and began to regard Redanies as a possible son-in-law.

As Redanies’s fixation on Caroline grew, he became very concerned about a forthcoming period of transfer to Aldershot and whether he would lose Caroline to another as there were plenty of admirers for both sisters. Whilst away, he wrote to Caroline and it was clear in his letters with 6000 kisses he was very seriously in love.

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There is no indication his passion was diminishing, but he only offers 4,000 kisses in his next letter at the end of June, 1856. As a translator, his spelling leaves a lot to be desired!

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He was soon to be transferred back to Shorncliff and just before leaving he wrote his last letter to Caroline dated Sunday 13th July 1856: Aldershot Camp letting her know he intended to visit her the following Sunday which would be July 20th:

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The Times (London, England), Monday, Aug 18, 1856; pg. 7

When they did meet up once more, Redanies’s controlling nature made him demand to see she had his letters and that she treasured them. We cannot know exactly, but it seems Caroline was less than responsive to his obsessive love for her and she accidently gave him sight of another admirer’s letter rather than his. According to Martin Easdown in his book, Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths: Folkstone (2006), Redanies had managed to glimpse the words, ‘My Dear Caroline‘ and ‘looking forward to meeting you again in Woolwich.’ (ibid: p.17)

This triggered a whole series of suspicious thoughts in Dedea’s head and when Caroline mentioned she was going to visit another sister who was married and lived in Woolwich, and, moreover, she would be staying with her, he immediately made a connection between the glimpsed letter and an imagined affair she must be having with another soldier. He also persuaded himself that Caroline was pregnant from being with another man.

It was Saturday August 2nd and that morning they argued about his accusations and after demanding his framed photo back from Caroline, Dedea smashed it on the front-room hearth, throwing his photo into the fire-place and storming out.

It is at this point the evidence remains a little confused. All accounts researched are unclear whether Dedea’s eventual return to see Caroline at her house around 7.30pm that same evening resulted in him staying the night with her or not.

James Back, her father, has said he did, but on other occasions that he did not – but there is no mistaking the fact that James Back met up with Dedea Redanies together with his daughters, Maria and Caroline, at breakfast in the Back household at number 5, Albion Place, Dover on Sunday August 3rd.

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ALBION PLACE, DOVER

However, this was no ordinary breakfast, this was at around 3.30am in the morning. During the previous evening, Dedea had insisted that Caroline set off early with him to walk nine miles to meet his sister in Shorncliff and make a day of it. Caroline’s mother, Mary, was against this idea because Caroline was feeling unwell and she felt her daughter was not capable of such an earlier and long walk.

Dedea’s persuasive insistence caused Mary to relent and she agreed as long as Caroline’s sister Maria went with them. So it was, that Dedea Redanies, dressed in his full military uniform, was seated at breakfast with his potential father-in-law, Caroline and Maria with Mary serving them breakfast for their early start.

Waving goodbye, Dedea Redanies set off arm-in-arm with Maria and Caroline for Shorncliff. Given that they were young, they might have managed three miles an hour but given the twists, turns and slopes of the road and the restrictions of their clothing, probably nearer four hours than three, especially with a break – so possibly a planned eight-o’clock arrival at Dedea’s sister’s house. Well as you’ve probably guessed – that did not happen.

They were certainly all seen together still walking arm-in-arm past the Royal Oak public house in Capel Le Ferne. George Marsh, a local labourer, was sitting outside on the verge and they waved. Deadea asked George the time, to which he replied, “Five o’clock.”  This was approximately the halfway point on their journey, with around 4.5 miles left to Shorncliff.

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Postcard: Circa 1910: This is little changed from when labourer George Marsh saw Dedea Redanies walking past arm-in-arm with Caroline and Maria Back on Sunday August 3rd at 5am

They continued their dawn walk for another thirty minutes or so arriving close to a pub called The Valiant Sailor. It was almost opposite this public house in a shallow grassy dip known as Steddy Hole, that the next sighting was made by Thomas Girling.

He was a visitor to the area who was searching for a local pathway down to the beach, except this search led to the bodies of two young women who had been attacked and stabbed to death. Girling ran to The Valiant Sailor and fetched the landlord Richard Kipharn and then Girling ran on into Folkstone to the police station returning later with a police superintendent.

When Girling got back, Richard Kipharn and helpers had taken the girls’ bodies to Mr. Burvill’s cottage nearby and they were waiting for the surgeon, Mr. Bateman who arrived at nine o’clock.

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The Times (London, England), Friday, Aug 08, 1856; pg. 8

This shocking discovery stunned all involved, it was so brutal and calculated and there was an immediate alert to find Dedea Redanies at all costs. James and Mary Back had the heart-breaking task of identifying their daughters at the cottage. It was during that identification that James Back said that both his daughters’ black capes were missing. A search of  Steddy Hole revealed nothing so it was assumed Redanies had taken them with him.

It was also discovered that on the Saturday evening before he had returned to the Back’s house at 7.30pm with his plan for a walk with Caroline, he had called into John Green’s Cutlers Shop in Dover at around 6pm and purchased what he termed a poniard, which is a narrow, very sharp dagger.

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This is a poniard – but not the actual murder weapon

So now there is a major man-hunt underway in an era where the only form of direct communication is word of mouth – but at least the man in the frame is still likely to be wearing his military uniform, such was his character.Word was received that he had been spotted by someone just after 6am alone and passing through an area in Barham Downs known as Black Robin’s Camp.*

*(This area was well-known since Roman times as a troop encampment coastline location to defend invasion threats and also it was the haunt of a local highwayman called Black Robin earlier in the century).

Despite all eyes peeled, Redanies evaded any capture or further positive sightings that day until Monday afternoon when the whole tragic saga took another twist and turn.

Canterbury Police Constable George Frier’s local inquiries had yielded information of Redanies’s movements. Being a foreigner with a distinctive accent and appearance, he was remembered by two women who had served him in their respective shops.

Firstly he had called into Elizabeth Attward’s general store in Lower Hardres – around 9am. He was wearing a red military jacket with a woman’s black cape around his shoulders and another tied around his waist. He purchased two sheets of paper and envelopes and asked if he could sit down and write some letters and, indeed, borrowed a pen to do so. He stayed for around ninety minutes writing two letters. Mrs. Attward noticed one was in a foreign language. He asked where he could get stamps and she directed him to the post office nearby. It was now around 10.30am.

Lower Hardres Postmistress, Mrs. Barwood, sold him two stamps which he stuck to the letters and posted in the box. As a result of her information, the letters were recovered from the post box by the police.

So it was that police constable George Frier caught up with Redanies on the Ashford Road railway viaduct. He recounted how some other people shouted at him and when he saw there was a police office approaching him – Redanies took the poniard and stabbed himself in the breast. George Frier, grabbed him and restrained him, and seeing he was badly wounded held him still and waited for assistance, sending off witnesses to fetch others.

Redanies was wearing two black capes – one turned inside out over his shoulders and the other around his waist with his arms through the sleeve-holes. He was now a good twenty miles from Steddy Hole and the horrors perpetrated there. He was taken to Kent and Canterbury hospital with serious injuries to his chest and in a critical condition.

There are occasions when a murder case becomes so overwhelmingly tragic to research you really have to wonder how in this world anyone could have possibly foreseen it coming. The ‘blame-game’ that the parents of the victims must have endured in this double murder is beyond my abilities to comprehend and the only way to illustrate this is to reproduce the tragic letters of Dedea Redanies so you can judge if any of this could have been predicted. Here are the letters he had posted that morning.

To Caroline and Maria’s mother, Redanies had written:

 

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The Times (London, England), Saturday, Dec 20, 1856; pg. 11

I find the selfishness of his approach to his own barbarous act the most difficult aspect to deal with and this is from a distance of over one hundred and sixty years. The premeditated purchase of the poniard for this ultimate outrage on two innocent women, I find unforgivable. It was said by some, that Mary Back forgave Redanies but I cannot confirm this from my research to date.

His other letter was written in poor German to an officer in his unit – Lieutenant Schmidt;

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The Times (London, England), Saturday, Dec 20, 1856; pg. 11

This letter was seemingly written before his deceptive luring of Caroline to take that Sunday dawn-walk on the pretence of visiting his sister in Shorncliff, involving a ‘watch story’ we know nothing about and, it seems, he’s unaware at this stage that Maria would be tragically included in his murderous intentions given his instructions to Schmidt to contact Maria about his watch!

Redanies remained critically ill for some time and I am not going to detail all of the media stories that began to emerge in the interim – suffice it to say that public outrage towards his actions was palpable and unless proved insane – his execution seemed inevitable. The media were ‘chomping at the bit’ to report the trial as soon as he was deemed fit enough and their first opportunity came on  Saturday, August 16th at a special session of the county justices of the Home Division, held in the grand jury room of the St.Augustine Session House in Canterbury. A charge of Wilful Murder had been preferred against Dedea Redanies by the coroner’s jury and this now had to be investigated by the said justices before a trial could be declared.

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The Times (London, England), Monday, Aug 18, 1856; pg. 7

Redanies was committed to trial at the next assize and in the meanwhile taken from court, while still sitting in his chair, to the county prison at St.Augustine’s.

The trial at the Winter Assizes was on Friday December 19th at Maidstone. Suffice it to say, it ended with the judge ceremoniously putting on the black cap and delivering the sentence of death on the prisoner through an interpreter so there was no misunderstanding the nature of Redanies’s terrible deed. Redanies knew this fate was coming and had no concerns as it was his wish to die.

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The Times (London, England), Saturday, Dec 20, 1856; pg. 11

Now a convicted murderer, Redanies was considered a suicide risk and was constantly watched over by a prison official. However, rather than seeking a way to end his life as he realised that was going to happen anyway, he created what he called “a little memento for the man watching over him.

This was a pencil drawing split into two scenes, each scene depicting the murder of each of his victims. The first scene is the figure of a woman lying on the ground under a tree and she has blood gushing from two incisions to her breasts. Above this figure, Redanies has depicted an angel collecting her soul to take to Heaven. The sun rising in the background depicts dawn-break when the murder took place. He has written an inscription saying, ‘Farewell by dear Maria – Dedea Redanies.

DEDEA_DRAW_1The second scene depicts his murder of Caroline and it is here where he has provided a self-portrait. He is the soldier upon who she is leaning as he holds her around the waist with his left arm, his right hand in hers, the dagger fallen to the ground as blood gushes from the wounds to her breasts. Again there is an angel and he has captioned it,
Death of Caroline Back from Dedea Redanies of August 3rd, 1856.
He explained to the prison watch to whom he presented it as a memento, that it represented himself “bidding her an eternal farewell.

DEDEA_DRAWIn a bizarre editorial, The Times newspaper engaged in a brief art review of his work, actually commenting, “Both drawings are extremely well done considering the unfavourable nature of materials at the prisoner’s command; while there is quite a pre-Raphaelite minuteness of detail.” The Times  (London, England), Monday, Dec 22, 1856; pg. 7

The final part of this tragedy was played out on New Year’s day 1857, The Times headline concerning Redanies execution was sandwiched between “The Southampton Election” and ” Sporting Intelligence” on page ten. Their last paragraph is a sober reminder that you never know what tragedy might be next in line!

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The Times (London, England), Friday, Jan 02, 1857; pg. 10;

 

 

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