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The Penguin Famous Trials series was started by Harry Hodge, who was Managing, Director of William Hodge & Co., Ltd, Publishers and Shorthand Writers. The son and grandson of a printer, he followed his father as one of the most expert of shorthand writers in Scotland, and for some fifty years was a well-known figure in the Scottish Courts both in that capacity and as a publisher of legal works.
In 1905 he founded The Notable British Trials Series which now extends to 70 volumes, commencing with that cause celebre, the Trial of Madeleine Smith. He was steeped in criminology all his life and held the view that a trial should be at least twenty years old before it can proveitself to have been notable, although this view had to be modified under modern conditions.
As general editor of that series he carefully selected his editors and insisted on the greatest possible accuracy in the presentation of each volume. Outside of his business life Mr Hodge's main interest was devoted to music, and he has a number of compositions to his name. He died in November 1947.
Since his death both The Notable Trial Series and the Penguin Famous Trials have been edited by his son, James Hozier Hodge. Moreover, in 1948, after long negotiations, James Hodge produced the first volumes in the War Crimes Trials Series, of which he is the assistant general editor to Sir David Maxwell Fyfe,P.C., Q.C., M.P
The four cases of murder that are examined in this volume are remarkable in that they were all the focus of intense media interest at the time. They each still retain a power to both fascinate and horrify today's reader.
The evidence given at the trial of Thurtell and Hunt in 1824 gives a graphic picture of the seedy underworld of the Georgian sporting 'fancy' as well as a glimpse into a now vanished legal system. Over a hundred years later, Frederick Nodder was accused first of the abduction and then of the murder of a little girl, whose body took five months to surface from the river.
The case against Peter Barnes and four others, two of them women, took place on the eve of the Second World War. They were accused of involvement in the IRA bombing in Coventry: five people died and over sixty were injured.
Finally, John Haigh eventually claimed he had murdered as many as nine people and had drunk their blood. He was charged with the single murder of an elderly lady whose body he had dissolved in acid — the forensic evidence against him was all too clear.