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The story of Dedea Redanies who killed Caroline and Maria Back on Steddy Hole, Capel-le-Ferne

Last week, we shared the story of the three rioters who met their end at the hangman's noose after being accused of setting fire to a barn.

It was one of many stories retold by Ivan Sage, former feature writer at the Essex Chronicle, in his series of books about William Calcraft's life and the 400 people he is thought to have executed.

William Calcraft
William Calcraft

This week, it's the tale of the jealous soldier who was hanged after killing both his ex-lover and her sister...

Dedea Redanies was a Serbian who signed up as a private in the British Swiss Legion to serve in the Crimean War.

Previously he had served in the Turkish army but claimed he found its principles ‘disgusting’.

He moved on to Milan, Italy, where he met a Catholic priest who encouraged him to renounce his Mahommedan faith and to become a Roman Catholic.

Redanies, then travelled to England and joined the British Swiss Legion. He became a batman to a Lieutenant Wilhelm Schmidt and, in 1856, found himself garrisoned at Shorncliff Camp, near Folkestone, Kent.

The Back family lived nearby at 5 Albion Place, Dover. John and Mary Back’s daughters Caroline, 19, and Maria, 17, were regular visitors to the garrison having to pick up laundry items. It was during one of these visits that Redanies first spotted Caroline and decided she was just the kind of girl he would like to have on his arm.

After a while, 26-year-old Redanies and Caroline began dating. Redanies was smitten by his new girlfriend and frequently wrote her loving letters and gave her a portrait of himself.

However, the course of true love rarely runs smoothly and, when the Crimean War ended, Redanies was transferred to another garrison at Aldershot and it became more difficult for the couple to meet up so regularly.

Nevertheless, through his many letters, Redanies was sure their enforced separation would not jeopardise their seven-month long relationship - but his confidence in their liaison took a huge knock when he saw Caroline walking out with an artilleryman based at Aldershot. Although Caroline insisted the man was just a friend Redanies was heartbroken - and angry - particularly as Caroline’s interest in him had begun to wane.

Redanies was determined to salvage his relationship with Caroline and, on Saturday, August 2, 1856, he turned up at the Backs’ home asking to see her. He was invited in and an amicable chat ensued but then Caroline handed back his love letters and a portrait he had given her of him.

Angrily, Redanies tore up the portrait and threw it on the fire. Eventually, when things had quietened down, Caroline told Redanies that he should leave as she was due to catch the 6.15am train to Folkestone the following morning.

Caroline, at this time, was in poor health so Redanies suggested that, instead of catching the train, he would meet her early in the morning and they could then walk the nine miles to Folkestone together. This would give them time to discuss their relationship.

John and Mary Back were not keen on this idea, being unsure that their daughter would be fit enough to undertake such a long walk in her condition but Redanies suggested that an early start and the early morning fresh air would be good for Caroline and, after talking it over, her parents agreed - on the condition that Maria would come along as an escort to Caroline.

Redanies left their home at half past nine that evening and returned at 3am to share breakfast with Caroline, Maria and their father.

John later reflected that his daughters and Redanies seemed in good humour and happy as they left his home at 5am and headed off down the road leading from Dover towards Folkestone. A while later, the three young people passed ostler - someone who looked after horses at inns - George Marsh.

Redanies asked him the time and he and the two girls wandered on, laughing and joking.

At 8am that morning, Folkestone carpenter Thomas Gurling was walking along the same road. When he arrived at a spot known as Steddy Hole, Capel-le-Ferne, he decided to sit a while on the beach to rest his feet - but he surely was not expecting to see the awful sight that awaited him. There, on the pathway to the beach was the body of a young woman.

It was Maria Back. Then, a few yards further on, Gurling was further horrified to see Caroline’s lifeless body.

THe Valiant Sailor Inn in 1857. Picture: From The Poisoners and Crimes of Passion by Ivan Sage
THe Valiant Sailor Inn in 1857. Picture: From The Poisoners and Crimes of Passion by Ivan Sage

Both girls had multiple stab wounds and their clothes were soaked in blood. Each girl was still wearing their bonnets and gloves, but the silk capes they had been wearing over their shoulders were missing.

Gurling rushed off to the nearby Valiant Sailor inn and alerted the landlord, Richard Kitham.

Between them, they contacted the police and local doctor William Bateman who hurried to the scene of the murders. The girls were quickly identified and a police officer was given the unenviable task of heading to the Backs’ family home to break the terrible news.

A grief-stricken Mary Back was taken to a little cottage known as Burvill’s, where the bodies of her daughters had been laid out for medical examination. Mary informed the attending police officers that the last time she had seen her daughters was when they left home early that morning with Dedea Redanies who, instantly, became a prime suspect.

The following day, Elizabeth Attwood was working in her husband’s little shop in Lower Hardres, just south of Canterbury. The door opened and in walked a young man who spoke in broken English.

It was Redanies. He asked Elizabeth if he could buy a pen, ink, paper and envelopes and, having paid for them, asked if he could spend a while in the shop in order to write some letters. Elizabeth agreed, having no idea that the young man in her shop was being sought in connection with a vicious double murder.

Redanies wrote a few letters, thanked Elizabeth, and left, heading for the post office to mail his letters. A short while later, police officer George Fryer’s attention was drawn to a young man acting in a most strange manner as he approached Milton Chapel Farm on the road between Canterbury and Chartham.

As Fryer approached he was horrified to see the young man pulling a knife from his breast before collapsing. Redanies, it appears, had attempted to end his life.

Pc Fryer was quick enough to break Redanies’ fall and carefully laid the injured man on the grass verge. A local doctor was summoned to administer first aid and then Redanies was transferred to Kent & Canterbury Hospital – under a police guard – as the murdered girls’ capes had been found wrapped around his body beneath his clothing.

Drawings by Dedea of Maria Back Picture: From The Poisoners and Crimes of Passion by Ivan Sage
Drawings by Dedea of Maria Back Picture: From The Poisoners and Crimes of Passion by Ivan Sage

It transpired that Redanies had stabbed himself three times, the deepest injury of which was to his left breast which had penetrated his lung and was at least six inches in depth. At one point, doctors did not expect him to survive.

The next day a coroner’s inquest was held at The Royal Oak Inn, Hougham, where a distraught John Back identified the two capes found on Redanies as those having belonged to his daughters. Dr Bateman revealed that Maria had been stabbed four times in the chest. Caroline had been stabbed three times, also in the chest.

The knife found on Redanies matched the wounds found on Caroline and Maria and two of the letters he had written in German in Elizabeth’s shop were produced and translated aloud. The first letter was addressed to Mary Back in which he begged Mary to forgive him.

‘Dearest Mother Back, on the first lines I pray to forgive the awful occurrence to the unlucky Dedea Redanies which I committed on my very dear Caroline and Maria Back yesterday at five o’clock. Scarcely I am able to write by heartbreak for my ever memorable Caroline and Maria.

‘The cause of this deed is 1; I heard that Caroline is not in the family way as I first believed; 2; Because Caroline intends to go to Woolwich; 3; That I cannot stay with Caroline, it made my heart so confused till at last the unhappy thought came into my mind that Caroline may rather die from my hands than to allow Caroline’s love to be bestowed on another.’

Referring to Maria, he wrote:

‘Arm in arm, I brought both my dearest souls in the world over to the unlucky place near the road before Folkestone and requested them to sit down but, the grass being wet, they refused to do so. I directed them, Caroline to go forwards, and I went behind Mary Ann (the name he always called Maria) into whose heart I ran the dagger. With a dull cry, she dropped down.

‘With a most broken heart, I rushed then after Caroline, lifting the poniard in my hand towards her. ‘Dear Dedea’ cried she, with half-dead voice, and fell down with weeping eyes. Then I rushed over her and gave her the last kisses as an everlasting remembrance.

‘I took both the shawls of Mary Ann and my dear Caroline as a mourning suit for me, leaving the awful spot with weeping eyes and a broken heart. Never shall I forget my dear Caroline and Mary Ann, and the poniard will be covered with the blood of Mary Ann and Caroline with me until it be put in my own breast and I shall see again my dear Mary Ann and Caroline in the eternal life.

‘Farewell, and be not troubled about the blissfully deceased angels of God and forgive the unhappy, ever-weeping, DEDEA REDANIES.’

The second letter had been addressed to Lieutenant Schmidt. In it Redanies apologised for his outstanding debts and asked Schmidt to visit the Backs’ house to translate the letter he had written to them.

Some of Redanies’ love letters to Caroline, in broken English, were also read out:

‘Four tousend kisses for you my dear Caroline, all Sesters, Broders and Vater and Mutter and me little Brocter Alexander.’

‘Dear Caroline, I compliments you and petition you to write to me, wherefore you of me letter not answer reply, write to me warm I to you. I hope that I you in a while ago to see to be home dear Caroline me portraits I send – yours me send when read it is my dear Caroline. I am you not to forget you bist me eternal joy. I kiss to you and continue your truly Dedea.’

These loving letters aside, with such compelling evidence before them, it was not a difficult decision for the coroner’s jury to find Redanies guilty of the girls’ murders and he was committed for trial before the magistrates. After the conclusion of the inquest, the bodies of Caroline and Maria were interred in the New Cemetery in Dover.

While in Canterbury Prison Redanies became acquainted with another prisoner by the name of George Hinton. Redanies confided in Hinton that, earlier in the year, he had seen Caroline with an artilleryman from Woolwich.

Caroline, by this point, had appeared cool towards Redanies. She explained that the artilleryman was a good friend but Redanies had convinced himself that she was about to embark on an affair with the artilleryman.

"Arm in arm, I brought both my dearest souls in the world over to the unlucky place near the road before Folkestone and requested them to sit down..."

He told Hinton how he had bombarded Caroline with love letters from his garrison at Aldershot but it soon became clear that she had tired of their relationship – even to the point of telling Redanies that she was pregnant by the artilleryman.

Redanies explained that, when he realised the pregnancy was a figment of Caroline’s imagination, he became so enraged that he made his way to the Backs’ family home but, on arrival, Caroline had handed him back all the letters he had written to her and also his portrait.

While at the Backs’ house Redanies discovered a letter, written by the artilleryman to Caroline, hoping that he would soon see her again in Woolwich.

Redanies told his fellow prisoner Hinton that he had been determined that this meeting would never take place. After leaving the Backs’ home he had made his way to John Green’s cutler’s shop in Dover and purchased a large knife – the knife with which he killed Caroline and Maria.

Redanies, standing at five feet six inches and looking ghastly pale, was sporting a scruffy beard and moustache and wearing prison clothing bearing the words ‘Kent Gaol’ when he appeared at the Sessions House, Canterbury before local magistrates. Still weak from his self-inflicted injuries, he was carried into the room on a chair, his head supported by pillows. According to one newspaper correspondent he appeared ‘more dead than alive.’On being committed for trial, Redanies wept bitterly.

Redanies’ trial began on December 16, 1856 at Maidstone Assizes. He entered a plea of guilty to Caroline’s murder yet not guilty to Maria’s. Realising the difficulties in interpretation, the judge, Baron Bramwell, questioned this. He told Redanies that if he were to be found guilty of just one of the murders, he would have no option other than to pass The Sentence of Death on him.

"I wouldn’t want you to hang if the evidence produced in court has not been properly tested in court," said the judge. He then offered Redanies another opportunity to plead not guilty to Caroline’s murder, but Redanies was in no mood to change his mind.

"I have nothing to say," he replied in German. (According to a report in The Times soon after the trial, Redanies had entered the courtroom with the intention to plead guilty to both murders.)

When his letter to Mary Back was read to the court it was revealed why Maria was also killed: "I did not also wish to murder Mary Ann (Maria) but, not having any other opportunity, as she was in my way, I could not do otherwise – I must stab her too."

While Redanies made no effort to defend himself in court, Baron Bramwell, keen to ensure a fair trial, recruited a volunteer – a man by the name of Barrow to defend him. Apart from claiming Redanies was not right in his mind when he committed the murders, it’s hard to find any other course of defence Mr Barrow could have offered. At least he tried, but the jury were not convinced and, on December 18, at the end of the trial, they returned after a short period of deliberation with a guilty verdict.

Dedea drew this picture of himself killing Caroline while languishing in his prison cell. Picture: From The Poisoners and Crimes of Passion by Ivan Sage
Dedea drew this picture of himself killing Caroline while languishing in his prison cell. Picture: From The Poisoners and Crimes of Passion by Ivan Sage

Redanies was taken to Maidstone Prison to await execution. In his cell Redanies passed the time drawing – he was an excellent artist – and he produced a remarkable pair of drawings showing the murders of the sisters which, when given to one of the guards, were immediately sold to the newspapers.

One picture bore the inscription ‘Farewell my dear Maryia – Dedea Redanies’. The other picture showed himself with Caroline with the fatal knife lying on the ground and with an angel in the sky above. Underneath this picture, Redanies had added the inscription: ‘Death of Caroline Back, from Dedea Redanies, of August 3, 1856. Farewell, my dear Caroline.’

During his time in prison, Redanies was a particularly quiet inmate, ‘sleeping and eating well and showing little concern for his approaching fate,’ according to The Times. He also wrote another letter to the sisters’ mother, asking that it be delivered to her after his death and telling her that, by the time she read it, he and her daughters would be together in paradise. Redanies signed the letter not only with his own name but added Caroline’s and Maria’s too.

Unusually, Redanies was allowed a few perks in prison, possibly because of his good behaviour. One perk was being allowed to smoke his pipe but, on the Wednesday prior to his execution, he laid it down and declared: ‘I shall smoke no more. I prepare myself to meet my dear Caroline.’

On New Year’s Day, 1857, Redanies was led from his cell to the scaffold on the roof of the porter’s lodge at Maidstone Prison after having spent a long period of time that morning with Roman Catholic priest Father Lawrence who spoke to the prisoner in German. William Calcraft was waiting for Redanies on the scaffold.

On seeing him, Redanies stood perfectly still, military straight and promptly saluted Calcraft and surrendered himself for pinioning. He showed very little concern for his plight and readily approached the scaffold and, according to one witness, claimed: ‘In a few moments I shall be in the arms of my dear Caroline - I care not for death!’

At midday, Calcraft fitted the straps around Redanies’ legs and withdrew the bolt – but this, unfortunately, was not the only death that day. Later, as the scaffold was being dismantled, part of it collapsed and a heavy beam landed on a workman’s head, killing him instantly.

This story features in Volume 7 - The Poisoners and crimes of passion and can be bought as an eBook on Amazon for £3.99.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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