THE end of the coming year will mark the 200th anniversary of a brutal unsolved murder which caused widespread alarm, amid fears the killer would strike again.

The victim was 18-year-old housemaid Hannah Latham, who had already endured grief and hardship in her short life.

She spent New Year’s Eve of 1812 in Barnard Castle, County Durham, before setting off to walk the four miles home through the snow to the hamlet of Brignall.

But on the way she was attacked and her throat was cut.

News even reached author Walter Scott, who spent several weeks in the area earlier that year and may well have seen Hannah on his visits to Brignall and the banks of the Greta.

He described it as a “horrid story”.

Hannah’s mother died at an early age and she was cared for by her father, discharged from the Army due to ill health.

He was making his way to his native Lancashire when he arrived in Barnard Castle with his little girl, but was so weak he sought lodgings and later died.

Hannah was taken in by William Blenkinsopp and his wife and, when old enough, went into service with Nellie Jackson and her family at Brignall.

Hannah had saved to buy little presents for the family that New Year’s Eve and had money in her purse.

She then went to a dance at the Ship Hotel, now the Old Well, on The Bank, and left before 10pm. But she had travelled two miles – past Holy Trinity Church, Startforth, and up a narrow road towards Cross Lanes – before the killer pounced.

The body was found shortly after daybreak. Her throat had been cut and her dress and the surrounding snow were soaked in blood.

There were indications she had escaped into a field before returning to the road, where she was finally caught.

Years later, George Weldon of Bridgegate, Barnard Castle, recalled visiting the scene as a young boy and seeing the body lifted onto a cart and taken to Abbey Moor Farm.

Crowds hurried to the scene, trampling any clues that might have been left behind.

John Bacon Sawrey Morritt, of Rokeby Hall, a local Justice of the Peace, conducted interviews in an attempt to trace the murderer, but could find no firm evidence against anyone.

He sent news of the murder to friend Walter Scott, who had visited him several times that year at Rokeby Hall, less than a mile from the murder scene, while writing his epic poem Rokeby.

In a reply dated January 12, 1813, Scott wrote: “Your horrid story reminds me of one in Galloway, where the perpetrator of a similar enormity on a poor idiot girl was discovered by means of the print of his feet, which he left upon the clay floor of the cottage in the death struggle.”

Though many attended Hannah’s funeral in Startforth church, it was never known if the killer was among them.

The first entry in the parish register for 1813 says simply: “1st January. Hannah Latham. Found murdered.”

A collection was held to buy a gravestone and the now worn inscription concludes: Ill fated orphan, though no parent’s tear Was shed in anguish o’er thy bier Yet shall thy murderer while on earth remain The victim of remorse, despair and pain.