Legg blog

The grisly plaster cast pictured above of the flayed corpse of a hanged murderer has quite a history.

On October 2, 1801, Mr James Legg shot one William Lambe to death in the latter’s bedroom.  Apparently the 73 year old Mr. Legg had been nursing a grudge against Lambe for some time.  As Mr. Lambe was awakening on the morning of Oct 2, Mr. Legg, gun in hand, confronted him, thrust a second pistol at him and challenged him to a duel to settle their differences.  Mr. Lambe tossed the proffered pistol out the door of his room whereupon Mr. Legg fired upon Mr. Lambe, killing him instantly.

Mr. Lambe’s wife witnessed the murder, but Mr. Legg admitted to it as well.  His trial took place on Oct 28, 1801.  He was sentenced to death, and his execution by hanging took place on Nov 2, a month to the day after the deed was done.  Justice was swift in those days.

So far, it’s just a run of the mill murder, but here’s where it gets interesting. During the time Mr. Legg was awaiting his trial and subsequent execution, three members of the Royal Academy of Arts – sculptor Thomas Banks and painters Benjamin West and Richard Cosway – had been debating the notion that artistic depictions of the crucifixion of Christ had been portrayed unrealistically.  They wondered what an anatomically correct crucifixion would really look like.

The three contacted a surgeon, Joseph Carpue, to help them with their anatomical inquiries.  At that time the only corpses legally available for dissection were those of convicted criminals who had been executed.  Carpue knew of the murder by Legg since both the perp and the victim were pensioners at Chelsea Hospital, where Carpue practiced.  Using his influence, Carpue was able to get possession of Legg’s corpse after his execution.

On the day of the execution, a small building was put up near the the site.  A cross was made and at the ready.  When the fresh corpse was cut from the gallows and transported to the waiting team, they stripped Legg, nailed him to the cross, and stood it up, allowing his still warm body to fall into the anatomically correct crucifixion position.

After the body had cooled and rigor mortis had set in, Banks, the sculptor, made a cast of the body.  Then the body was moved (maintaining its ‘correct’ position) to Carpue’s operating theatre where he proceeded to flay (remove the skin) from the corpse of the unfortunate Mr. Legg.  Banks made yet another cast, this one showing the position of the musculature in an anatomically correct crucifixion.  This is the cast pictured at the top of this post.

In an effort to keep this post in the realm of the nutritional, I might point out that Mr. Legg was definitely not obese.  He was probably pretty standard weight for his time.  He would have indeed stood out at Disneyland.

Now that you’ve had the history lesson, let me give you my request.  When MD and I opened our first little medical clinic years ago, a neurosurgeon friend of ours gave us a book on this gruesome episode.  It was a small book, well bound, and from a small press, the name of which I can’t remember.  We kept the book in the medical reference library in the clinic.  As the clinic grew, other doctors began working there with us. We finally grew out of our little clinic, and as I was packing the reference books to move, I realized that the book on the Legg affair had gone missing.

I’ve kept my ear to the ground since figuring that I would run across another copy I could pick up, but, as of yet, I haven’t.  I don’t remember the title of the book, nor do I remember the publisher.  But, I would love to have another copy.  So, if anyone happens to know the name of this book or even the publisher, drop me a note through the comments.  I would really appreciate it.

I happened to stumble across the photo of the cast of the flayed Mr. Legg while searching for something else this weekend.  I spent about three hours searching online, but alas had no luck finding the book. Nor any photos other than the one above. But I did find an account of Mr. Legg’s trial, such as it was, complete with verbatim testimony of various witnesses.

You can read it in its entirety here in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey.

I love the language they used two hundred years ago.  Here is an example.

The prosecuting attorney, a Mr. Fielding, begins his questioning of the victims wife:

You are the wife of the deceased; tell the story of the melancholy event that took place on the 2d of October?

Mrs. Lambe then gives her eyewitness version of the event:

I got up in the morning a little before seven; Mr. Legg was walking about the common room, swearing, and quite in an ill humour, I thought; I asked him what was the matter, when he began to swear the more, and said, I will turn you out of the room, if you speak another word; my husband was then in bed and asleep; I thought I heard him stirring, and opened the door to see; he had just got out of the bed, when the prisoner rushed past me, and put a pistol into his hand; he took it, turned it about, and looked at it, and said, what is this for; the room was dark, and then he threw it into the common room; my husband had just put on a little flannel waistcoat, and stood up against the door; the prisoner then, after my husband had thrown the pistol away, rushed up immediately, and fired at him, as he saw him through the glass door; when he had done so, he looked at me, and said, I have done it; I saw the blood coming out of his breast, and I cried out, murder; he fell directly; and expired; he endeavoured to call my name, but could not.

A bit later in her testimony, Mr. Fielding asks her if there was any ill-will between her husband and Mr. Legg.

She responds:

God knows what ill-will he had, but my husband had none towards him; I took him to be a very solid man, for he washed his own linen, cooked his own victuals, and took the sacrament regularly, so I thought he was a man rather better than what he has turned out.


So, if anyone has info on the book about this ‘melancholy event,’ please send it my way.  If I end up with the much-coveted book in my hand, I’ll see that whomever tips me off first gets a free, autographed copy of our new book when it comes out next month.  Thanks in advance.


  1. As usual, I am up way past my bedtime reading your interesting blog. This didn’t disappoint. I’ll keep an eye out for the book.


  2. Awesome post, history is indeed fascinating. As a student at the University of Florida I spent entire days in the massive libraries thumbing and researching (English major,computers were just becoming widely available) through hardbound books. I frequently came across texts that were 100 to 150 years old with margin notes from students in generations past, it was like touching the past.
    Since I’m here I would like to express my thanks to you and your wife for your work. I work in the medical arena ( echocardiography) and couldn’t agree with your opinions more about the “crash and repair” approach to disease. I’ve been at it for twenty years now, the new cardiologists are as obstinate as the old guard.
    Unlike Mr. Legg, I’ll not hang around,


    Too bad about the new cardiologists. Of course their entire training has been during the era of statin madness, so I suppose they would be brainwashed.

  3. Hi Mike,

    Doubt it is the book – but the story (and perhaps the picture) is told here;


    – the crucified poses debate taking up a chapter.

    The other reference I found was for “Dying Behaviour” – which lists the murderer and victim, but I sense this was for the even more melancholy practice of recounting the details of the execution – not what transpired afterwards.

    Whilst we are sort of talking about pain – could I ask you to remind Loren he was going to get back to you in respect of the favour we spoke of?



    Thanks for the nudge on Cordain. I had let it slip. He’s gone until the middle of August, but I’ll ding him after that.

  4. I pride myself on usually being able to find books that people say they can’t find. I’ve unearthed quite a few and am gratified when I can help someone locate a book they remembered that was important to them.

    I also do bookbinding myself and know that many obscure titles have very limited publication runs – in the dozens, maybe, if that. These can be books that look like any other well-made book. They might be finely bound in cloth or leather, tooled, and otherwise decorated to become the small, well-bound book you describe.

    I spent an hour or so looking at all the sources I use to locate hard-to-find books, searching on various keywords, and came up with nothing. Carpue wrote several books, one on the restoring of a lost nose, but none of them seem to fit what you’re looking for. Without knowing anything else besides what you’ve posted, I’d guess there’s some possibility that someone who was interested in the subject matter typeset an article Carpue wrote and then bound it as a standalone work. Was it that “small” of a book?

    If that’s the case, there may not ever have been many copies.

    I found two references to articles that because of the gruesomely interesting subject might have been printed as standalone books. You could see if you can get a look at the articles and if they are the text you remember. One is “Cast of Crucifixion,” from an unpublished MS in Carpue’s handwriting, The Lancet, 1846, i, 166. The other is an article in Brit. Med. Jour., 1895 i, 1930. Both these sources are quoted at the bottom of a web page you may already have looked at: http://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/biogs/E000415b.htm

    If you have any other clues for me, I’ll look some more. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and I also wouldn’t mind that autographed copy of your new book. 🙂 –Anne

    Thanks. I’ve given you all the clues I have. I can’t get find the Lancet article though I have access to all the Lancets ever published. I think the citation is incorrect.

  5. Sounds like a job for an antiquarian. You could start with:
    Donald A. Heald Rare Books
    124 E. 74th St. New York, NY 10021.
    Donald A. Heald
    Tel: (212) 744-3505.
    Fax: (212) 628-7847.

  6. Morbid Anatomy: Anatomical Crucifixion (James Legg),1801

    This is a link to a blog post about the subject.

  7. Interesting story indeed! I’ll keep my eyes open as well. Hopefully you’ll find a copy soon.

  8. electronic version: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn3163211

    Text from site:

    Dying behaviour, &c. of James Legg, for the murder of William Lamb; and Richard Stark, for the murder of his wife. Who were executed this morning, opposite the debtor’s door, Newgate [electronic resource]

    Bib ID 3163211
    Format Book , Online
    Online Access http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/ECCO?c=1&stp=Author&ste=11&af=BN&ae=T196607&tiPG=1&dd=0&dc=flc&docNum=CW105342502&vrsn=1.0&srchtp=a&d4=0.33&n=10&SU=0LRL+OR+0LRI&locID=nla
    Description [London] : Davenport, printer, London, [1800?]
    1 sheet : ill. ; 1/2°.
    Series Eighteenth century collections online.
    Cited In ESTC, 196607
    Reproduction Electronic reproduction. Farmington Hills, Mich. : Thomson Gale, 2003. (Eighteenth century collections online). Mode of access: World Wide Web. Access restricted to subscribers.

    I’ll keep looking for a hard copy.

  9. One Possibility. I’ll look for others.

    The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, anatomically considered, : in a letter addressed to the Rev. Eli Noyes, D.D. At his request,

    Author: Abner Phelps; Eli Noyes
    Publisher: [Providence] : Printed by A. Crawford Greene, Providence., 1853.
    Book : English

    The book I’m looking for is a new one, probably published in the late 70s/early 80s.

  10. As an additional thought, do you know about this classic article from JAMA. I used to get a lot of library requests for it around Easter. You may not want to know about it, but here is the cite.

    On the physical death of Jesus Christ.
    Edwards WD, Gabel WJ, Hosmer FE.
    JAMA. 1986 Mar 21;255(11):1455-63.
    PMID: 3512867 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    I’ve got a copy of this article. When I found it, I thought it might contain a citation for the book I’m looking for in the list of references. But, alas, it doesn’t.

  11. Very interesting! I did a search on Joseph Carpue and found this little biography about him. It did mention: “Early in his career he carried out the wish of Benjamin West, P.R.A., Banks, and Cosway, to ascertain how a recently killed corpse would hang on a cross. A murderer just executed was treated in this manner, and when cool a cast was made (Lancet, 1846, i. 167). In 1801 Carpue published a “Description of the Muscles of the Human Body,” and in 1816 an “Account of Two Successful Operations for Restoring a Lost Nose from the Integument of the Forehead.” This was from the website: http://www.todayinsci.com/C/Carpue_Joseph/CarpueJosephBio.htm

    The following link also lists his publications at the very bottem: http://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/biogs/E000415b.htm
    Hope this helps!

  12. Dear Dr. Eades:
    I’m a book editor and writer. I’ve never commented here before, but I regularly read your terrific blog for both information and entertainment. Thanks to your books and blog, I’m getting off the “Carb Carousel” and enjoying a better quality of life. I’m also looking forward to delivery of my copy of “Fat Heads,” which I ordered after reading about it on an old post of yours.

    Anyway, I just did a little online research about Dr. Carpue, which led me to this listing on Amazon:

    “Description of the Muscles of the Human Body as they Appear on Dissection,” by J.C. Carpue, copyright 1801, 55 pages. Not surprisingly, it’s listed as an “out-of-print, hard-to-find volume.” Under publisher, it says, “Printed for T. Lewis, Longman and Rees, and Cadell, Jun. and Davies (1801).” Could this be the volume you’re looking for? If not, it might lead you to the right one. At any rate, good luck on your search, and thank you for all you’ve done to help me, and legions of others, achieve better health.

  13. There is a biography of Benjamin West that contains the story & fits the time frame (1978). What makes me think it’s less likely is that it’s 525 pages & published by Houghton Mifflin. But here’s a link just in case.


    Thanks. I may track this down to see if there is anything in the bibliography that points to the other book I”m seeking, which is probably only 120 pages long.

  14. A description of the muscles of the human body, as they appear on dissection … With prints and maps, showing the insertions of muscles …, [Joseph Constantine Carpue].
    Author: Joseph Constantine Carpue
    This may be the one you wanted!

    No, the one you describe was written in 1801. The one I’m looking for was written in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Thanks for sending, though.

  15. Cannot help you in your search. But what a wonderful transcript of the trial you provide! The end is a gem:

    “JOHN ADCOCK sworn. – Examined by Mr. Gurney. Q. How long have you known Legg, the prisoner? – A. Very near two years; we were in one room together.
    “Q. Have you observed any thing in his conduct to induce you to think he was not in his right mind? – A. Not at all; I am both blind and deaf.
    “GUILTY , Death .”

    How Mr Adcock could answer the questions put to him is never explained!

    Yes, I noticed that, too. And wondered about it.

  16. Dr. Eades, it was my understanding that if a man was nailed to a cross through the palms of his hands, the weight of the body would eventually tear the hands away from the nails. The man on the Shroud of Turin had been nailed through the Space of Destot in the wrists, presumably to prevent this problem.

    Yet Mr. Legg was nailed through the palms of his hands and this seemed to cause no problems. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

    None. I haven’t given where the best place to put the nail during a crucifixion a lot of thought.

  17. Not sure if others already made the point but they did not correctly nail the man’s hands to the cross. It was necessary to put the nails through the arms below the wrist so that the weight and the shifting of the body before death did not pull the nails through the relatively insignificant tissue of the hands. When nailed through the wrist below the wrist bones, the wrist bones served to support the weight until death. Crucifixion btw usually caused death by asphyxiation and/or exposure. To make it more “humane” the crucified’s femurs could be broken. Doing so prevented the use of the legs to make it easier to get a breath, so death would come more rapidly than if the legs left whole. All in all a grizzly way to kill or to die. Certainly might give one pause if thinking of rebellion …

    Last bit – the nail through the wrist typically damaged nerves which induced a thumb contraction so that the thumb folded into the palm. Supposedly, the Shroud of Turin shows the effect – fwiw.

    Interesting if gruesome story.

  18. I can’t resist a search either—I have no impulse control in the face of a request for information. I did find a reference to a three-page article on the topic that appeared in a Apollo Magazine by the curator of an exhibit on Banks: Julius Bryant, “Thomas Banks ‘s Anatomical Crucifixion,” Apollo 133 (June 1991): 409-11. If you can track down the article, the book you’re looking for might be cited.

    Thanks. I’ll see if I can locate a copy of Apollo Magazine.

  19. I know that the Carpue book about restoring a lost nose does not seem to be the book you’re looking for, but I found a book review that might be of interest.


    In the review it talks about how the author, Dr. Frank McDowell, relates the macarbe episode you described above.

    It seems that Dr. McDowell based his research on the work of Dr. Jerome P. Webster, who planned on writing a biography on Carpue. However, he died before he could complete the feat. This website shows that the research files of Carpue that Dr. Webster conducted are housed at Columbia University.


    If the Dr. McDowell book isn’t the right one for you, then it had to be another person who had access to Dr. Webster’s files. I would be surprised if someone else did indepedent research on their own about Carpue.

    Hope this helps.

    On another note, do you have any recommendations for low-carb docs in the Chicago area?

    Thanks for all you do.

    Thanks for the info. Unfortunately, I do not know a low-carb doc in Chicago. I wish I did as I’ve been asked for a recommendation by several people.

  20. Do i take it you’ve tried Powells of Portland ?

    Not yet, but I need to know what to ask for.

  21. Other tests have been done showing that nails through the palms would not support the weight of a man. Ropes would also be needed. French surgeon Dr Pierre Barbet showed that a nail through the wrist would provide perfect support to a suspended body. When done like this, the nail touches the median nerve causing a motor reaction of the thumb snaping into the palm, as is shown on the Shroud of Turin.

  22. It is also interesting to note that the man on the Shroud, (Christ?) and many experts do believe it to be a real crucified body, stood between 5′ 11″ and 6.5′ and weighed 180 lbs. His body was that of a mesomorph or modern sprinter.

  23. My name is James Legg and I googled myself to find this page. I am sure I am not related in any way as I’ve met all the James Leggs in my family, but would love to purchase copy of this. Is there anywhere that I could buy a replica of this. I think it’s pretty interesting.

    1. I don’t have a clue. You might try checking with the Royal Academy of Arts School in London. I still haven’t found a copy of the book that was stolen from me.

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