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Macabre collection of plaster-cast heads of Victorian hanged criminals reveals the face of a serial prostitute killer from 50 years before Jack The Ripper

  • Collection of casts of dead convicts heads discovered in an outbuilding of home
  • Two of the dead heads have been identified as Benjamin Courvoisier, a valet who murdered his employer, and Daniel Good, who mutilated his mistress
  • Predicted collection would sell for 2,000 but it fetched almost 40,000

These disturbing Victorian plaster cast heads of hanged criminals are a far cry from today's bland mugshots.

The macabre collection of impressions from nine dead convicts was discovered in a shed near Penrith, Cumbria during a routine valuation by a shocked auctioneer.

Two of the dead heads have been identified as Benjamin Courvoisier, a valet who murdered his employer Lord William Russell, and coachman Daniel Good, who mutilated his pregnant mistress.

The set of head casts of nine dead convicts (pictured) was discovered in a shed near Penrith, Cumbria

The set of head casts of nine dead convicts (pictured) was discovered in a shed near Penrith, Cumbria

Experts predicted the collection would sell for 2,000 but it fetched almost 40,000 at auction

Experts predicted the collection would sell for 2,000 but it fetched almost 40,000 at auction

One of them was even once covered in lipstick and rouge as the owner's young daughter had unwittingly decided to practice doing her make-up on the cast.

Experts predicted the collection would sell for 2,000 but Courvoisier's head alone went for 20,000. In total the collection sold for almost 40,000 at auction.

In Victorian times it was common to take so-called death masks of people to keep as a mementos or to be used for the creation of portraits.

Some scientists believed the size and shape of the brain and skull gave clues about a person's character, which was known as the study of phrenology. As a result, plaster cast heads were created often post-mortem.

One of the heads was identified as Benjamin Courvoisier (pictured), a valet who murdered his employer Lord William Russell
Another is coachman Daniel Good (pictured), who mutilated his pregnant mistress

Two of the dead heads have been identified as Benjamin Courvoisier (left), a valet who murdered his employer Lord William Russell, and coachman Daniel Good (right), who mutilated his pregnant mistress

At the time some scientists believed the size and shape of the brain and skull gave clues about a person's character, which was known as the study of phrenology

At the time some scientists believed the size and shape of the brain and skull gave clues about a person's character, which was known as the study of phrenology

Two of the heads were made by the famous British phrenologist James De Ville, who built a private museum of more than 5,000 specimens.

Steven Parkinson, auctioneer and valuer at Thomson Roddick in Carlisle believes the heads were at the property since the late 19th century.

He said: 'Auctioneers love to investigate outbuildings because often this is where the best finds are.

'We made our way inside the outbuilding, climbed up some creeky stairs onto an unstable floor and there was a table with nine heads.

'There was even one with make up on it. One can only imagine a little girl must have practiced her make up on the head of a convicted criminal. It's like something out of a Stephen King book.

'The successful bidder, from the south of England, suggested the heads possibly came from the Edinburgh Phrenological Society which disbanded in the late 19th century.

'Victorians thought they could tell the character of someone from the lumps and bumps on their head.

'These heads in the first instance were of convicts and were made and sold to raise money for the victims' families.

Two of the heads were made by the famous British phrenologist James De Ville, who built a private museum of more than 5,000 specimens

Two of the heads were made by the famous British phrenologist James De Ville, who built a private museum of more than 5,000 specimens

In Victorian times it was common to take so-called death masks post-mortem to keep as a mementos or to be used for the creation of portraits

In Victorian times it was common to take so-called death masks post-mortem to keep as a mementos or to be used for the creation of portraits

One of the heads was once covered in lipstick and rouge (left) as the owner's young daughter had unwittingly decided to practice doing her make-up on the cast

One of the heads was once covered in lipstick and rouge (left) as the owner's young daughter had unwittingly decided to practice doing her make-up on the cast

'Sometimes they were sold as a memento of justice for the family. However, you didn't have to be a convict to have one made.

'Wealthy people who didn't for whatever reason get a portrait done of someone could pay for a bust to be made of them.'

Courvoisier, a Swiss gentleman servant who had emigrated to London, murdered two prostitutes, a watchmaker and a Lord during a three year killing spree in London in the late 1830s.

His method was eerily similar to Jack the Ripper and his victims were discovered in a pool of their own blood with their throats slit.

Between 1837 and 1839 he is believed to have murdered 21-year-old barmaid Eliza Davies, prostitute Eliza Grimwood, who was found with her throat cut and her abdomen viciously ripped and watchmaker Robert Westwood.

Courvoisier's head (pictured) was sold for 20,000

Courvoisier's head (pictured) was sold for 20,000

He was finally caught when he murdered employer Lord William Russell in his bed at his house in May 1840.

Courvoisier was found guilty and was hanged outside Newgate Prison in July 6, 1840. He was just 24 years-old.

A crowd of about 40,000 witnessed the hanging, including death sentence opponent William Makepeace Thackeray and author Charles Dickens.

It is believed Courvoisie committed his crimes naked, to avoid blood stains in an era before washing machines.

In April 1842, Daniel Good murdered his mistress Jane Jones, dismembered the body and attempted to burn her remains.

When the constable entered the stable where Good lived he discovered a partially scorched female torso. Good fled to Kent and was at large for 10 days before his capture.

His execution took place at Newgate on May 23, 1842.

In the late 18th century, Austrian physician Franz Joseph Gall claimed there are up to 26 organs on the surface of the brain which affect the shape of the skull. One of the 26 is a murder organ present in murderers.

Brain organs which were used got bigger and those which were not used shrunk causing the skull to change shape with organ development.

It is these bumps and indentations that determine if a person is a murderer.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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