William Brown, known as Peppermint Billy, was convicted of killing the 70-year-old keeper of the tollgate in Melton’s Thorpe Road, and his nine-year-old grandson.
The motive was thought to be revenge for court evidence which had led to him previously being transported away for 10 years to what is now called Tasmania, off the coast of mainland Australia.
The subsequent murders in Melton in the summer of June 1856 elevated Brown to the status of a ‘mythical bogeyman’ in the criminal history of the county.
Historian and author, Joanne Vigor-Mungovin, researched the story which horrified local residents in the mid-19th century, finding out about the killer’s life before he became notorious and the circumstances surrouding the double murders.
Fittingly, Peppermint Billy – William Brown and the Tollgate murders of 1856, will be launched in Brown’s home village at a special event in May.
Joanne, who is an archivist with the Leicester Civic Society, told the Melton Times: “I lived and worked in Melton Mowbray in the 1990s and always heard the stories of this terrible crime and the sinister figure of Peppermint Billy.
“It all began when my cousin, Rachael, and her husband, Dean, sent me a copy of the notes from William’s trial in the summer of 2020.
“Dean is a descendant of Edward Woodcock, the murdered tollgate keeper, and they were aware of my interest in the case.
“After reading it, I wanted to know more, not only about the murder, but also about William Brown.
“Why did William return home to the village of his birth after 13 years away, and was he truly guilty of this horrific crime?”
The book tells how Brown had been sent to Van Dieman’s Land on the other side of the world and at some point he ended up in a lunatic asylum.
Just over a decade later he was back in Melton, having been released from incarceration, and approaching the Toll Bar near to the Thorpe End bridge.
His older victim was shot and the young boy fatally stabbed as Brown was said to have wrought vengeance for his prison sentence in Australia.
Joanne’s first book - Joseph, The Life Times and Places of the Elephant Man - chronicled the story of a severely deformed Leicester man who became the subject of a Hollywood movie starring John Hurt.
She was equally drawn to the story of Peppermint Billy and carried out extensive research once again.
“My research into this extraordinary man has taken me all over Leicestershire and to travel more than 100,000 miles through the power of modern technology to explore the customs and history of Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales in Australia,” Joanne added.
“I also received help from a Tasmanian historian who helped with the social history of William’s life and what he would have seen and experienced.
“William truly got under my skin, and I would troll for hours through old newspapers, genealogy records and the Tasmanian Convict records until I finally found what I consider William’s true story.”
Joanne will attend a book signing at Scalford Parish Church on May 14 for the official launch where she will also answer questions about the story.
She has invited members of both the Woodcock and Brown families to the event, where local pork pies and Stilton will be served.
Descendants of both the victims and the killer have written forewords in the book, as has Leicestershire Police chief constable, Simon Cole.
Go to www.PeppermintBilly.com to pre-order a copy of the book.