A request for information

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.

Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara


Since a bunch of readers have asked, I’ll give a quick update about the fire in Santa Barbara.  I took the photo above when MD and I went out to dinner last night in downtown Santa Barbara.  The top of our car, which is parked next to the restaurant, is in the foreground, providing some perspective.

As it stands now, MD and I are a little ways from the evacuation area, but the margin is getting closer and closer.  Fires move pretty fast when they are driven by winds gusting from 60-70 mph.  I’ve driven around and looked at the fire and placed it on a map and compared it to where we are.  When I do this and think about it, the reasoning, cognitive part of my brain tells me that we are in no danger at this point, but the primitive, reptilian part of my brain screams a different message.

If you click this link you can see a Google map of Santa Barbara that will update every 15 minutes.  You can see the areas that are under voluntary and mandatory evacuations.  And you can see how far this fire has spread in just four days, which is what the primitive part of my brain is focusing on. You’ll have to scroll to the right to see the part of the fire that affects us.  Our house is north of E. Valley Rd and above the Birnam Wood Golf Course.  If you see the edge of this evacuation hit Birnam Wood, you’ll know we’re out of here.

The most annoying thing about this fire – aside, of course, from the potential of being burned to death and/or having your house burn to the ground – is the lack of information available from the press and the authorities.  I watched a press conference this morning and almost ran screaming from the room.  Instead of one person who knew what was going on transmitting information, the press conference was a parade of ‘authorities’ and politicians jockeying for TV time and thanking one another for all the support.  The politicians thanked the fire fighters, the fire fighters thanked the politicians, and both thanked those involved in law enforcement.  Absolutely no information of value was transmitted.

Which brings me to another almost unbearably annoying part of these press conferences.  Along with profusely thanking one another for all the help, everyone defaults to what I call ‘authority’ talk.  There are no policemen or sheriffs, only ‘law enforcement personnel.’ No firefighters, but ‘fire control personnel.’ There is no wind, but ‘wind events’ instead.  We have fixed-wing aircraft and rotary wing aircraft circling overhead instead of airplanes and helicopters.  A DC-10 tanker is on the scene dropping tons of fire retardant.  It’s called the ‘largest dropping resource’ we have.  The fire itself is referred to as the ‘fire incident.’ ARRRGGGHHHH!!!!

I’ll keep everyone posted on what goes on via Twitter.  If you don’t want to sign up, you can simply go to the Follow Me On Twitter button (with the little blue bird) in the upper right of this blog and find all the updates.

Keep your fingers crossed for us.

What follows is a series of photos showing the fire in different stages.

Below is a photo I took from the tee box on the 17th hole two days ago.


Here is the view from the same spot about 18 hours later.  I was playing with our son, and hit our drives off the tee.


By the time we got to our balls, a hot spot had erupted.  You can see how much change can take place in less than five minutes.


Here is the view taken about an hour ago from behind an info kiosk located about a half mile from our house.


A view of the fire at dusk last night.