John Ducker, the last man hanged publicly in Suffolk

On 14 April 1863, John Ducker was hanged in Ipswich for the murder of police constable Ebenezer Tye in Halesworth. John Ducker would be the last person publicly hanged in Suffolk.

The Murder

PC Ebenezer Tye was just 24 years old when he was assigned to observe Clarke’s Yard in Chediston Street where John Ducker was known to live on 24 November 1862. Born in 1838 in Woodbridge, Suffolk, to William Tye and Priscilla Tye, nee Girt, Ebenezer was new to the police force having joined it in Halesworth in the early 1860s. He was set to watch the Ducker’s residence during the night and was last seen alive in the early hours of 25 November 1862. The alarm was raised when the young constable did not report for duty later that day. The resulting search of the area discovered his body submerged in a brook near to Clarke’s Yard. It was noted that Tye had suffered a blow to the head. Whether this was the killing blow or whether he drowned in the brook is not known.

The Murderer

John Ducker was the prime suspect in PC Tye’s death. Ducker was born around 1800 in Halesworth and first appears in Suffolk Archives’ records in the Ipswich Gaol book in 1844 charged with the theft of beans from a barn in Blyford (A609/4/100). The gaol book entry shows that he was married with three children and that he was previously convicted of theft 22 years earlier around 1822. Ironically in the same gaol book in 1844 a few pages before Ducker’s entry, the entries for Walter Howell and Israel Shipley who were convicted for the murder of PC James McFadden can be found. This was 18 years before Ducker himself would be accused of murdering a police officer.

Arrested in 1862 Ducker was accused of murdering the young constable and appears once again in the records for Ipswich Gaol (A609/22/29). Tried for murder he was found guilty by the jury  and was sentenced to death. Three of the jurors sent memorials to the Secretary of State in the hope of a reprieve, though this did not come. The Monday evening before his execution Ducker admitted he pushed Tye in to the water but he did not hit or hold down the young constable, the Beccles and Bungay Weekly News reported on 21 April 1863. It quoted Ducker as saying that it was ‘not my intention to make away with the man. I wanted to get away from him’.  The scaffolding was erected in the gateway of Ipswich Gaol and a black blind was installed to partially obscure the culprit’s body. In front of a crowd of over 4000 people,  John Ducker was hanged on 14 April 1863 and his body buried on the east side of Ipswich Gaol. He would be the last person publicly hanged in Suffolk.

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