22nd July 1886

A dying man confesses to murder

It looked like a cut-and-dried case. So sure were the authorities of 51-year-old Joseph Le Brun’s guilt that, just four days later, the newspapers were already naming him a killer.

Le Brun, they reported, had shot his sister, Nancy Laurens, in the face, killing her instantly. He had then reloaded his gun and waited for her husband to return to their St Lawrence farmhouse. Although her husband was indeed also shot, whether by Le Brun or someone else, the bullet didn’t kill him.

Despite this, police didn’t seem to think it curious that Le Brun would go to bed without finishing the job, and they arrested him soon after at his house close by. His motivation, they claimed, was the theft of £20, which was missing from the Laurens’ home.

Not guilty plea

Le Brun pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence through and beyond his trial, but was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to death. This was despite there being no evidence against him other than the testimony of his brother in law.

Le Brun wrote to the Home Secretary requesting a reprieve but his plea was unsuccessful. He was hanged in front of a large crowd of spectators on 12 August 1875. This made Le Brun the last person to be hanged in public in the British Isles.

Likely the people of Jersey thought the matter dealt with until, on 22 July 1886, a dying man felt the need to unburden himself before meeting his maker, and confessed that he, not Joseph Le Brun, had been the killer.

Although the confession was widely reported in the mainland papers, none revealed the dying man’s name. It’s impossible to know whether he really was the culprit and Le Brun was an innocent man, or if it was the ramblings of a deluded soul approaching the end of his life.


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