Although generally known as Robert, Snooks was in fact baptised James at Hungerford, Berkshire on Sunday 16th August 1761. It is possible that during his early career he worked as an ostler at the King's Arms, Berkhamsted and, if so, his employer, John Page, was destined to meet him in an official capacity at his eventual execution.
In 1800 he was known to be living in Hertfordshire at Hemel Hempstead, and in consequence he would have had the opportunity to become familiar with movements on and around Boxmoor Common. One person who would have undoubtedly caught his eye would have been John Stevens, the post boy employed to carry mail across the lonely heathland. Selecting a suitably dark night, Snooks waylaid Stevens as he crossed the common, relieving with relative ease of his mailbags. It is not known whether he chose that particular night carefully or whether it was pure good fortune, but the contents of the bags were exceptionally heavy, one letter alone containing over £500 in notes.
Leaving for Southwark unrecognised, Snooks had achieved what he felt to be the perfect crime, indeed but for one small mistake he would probably have remained undetected.
Some time after the robbery, feeling that all the excitement had died down, he despatched a servant girl to purchase him some cloth, charging her to bring him the change from a £5 note. In error. he handed her a £50 note, a fact which aroused great suspicion with the trader. Aware of enquiries now being made about him, Snooks fled back to Hungerford. Despite being well known. He managed to evade capture until, on the information of a former school colleague, now turned post boy, he was arrested.
Found guilty under his baptismal name at Hertford Assizes, he was sentenced to be hung in chains at a site selected by Mr. Page, now High Constable of the Hundreds of Dacorum. However, the period for such grisly displays was drawing to a close and after a petition by the residents of Boxmoor, the selected location, this was commuted to a straightforward execution.
A local holiday was declared on the appointed day, March 11th, 1802, crowds assembling from early morning. Stopping for a final drink en route to his execution, Snooks is reputed to have rebuked the crowds, telling them that there would be no fun until he arrived. Standing before the gallows it is said he offered his gold watch to anyone prepared to assure him a decent burial.
This bargain not being accepted, he was hung from one of a group of five horse chestnut trees. After he was cut down, a truss of straw was divided, half being tossed into the grave. As the body was placed upon this a disgraceful scene ensued as the executioner started to strip the clothes of the corpse claiming it to be his privilege. The High Constable, determined to preserve a sense of decency, prevented this, the remaining straw then being placed over the body and the grave filled in.
The following day it would appear that the local residents repented and subscribed to a plain wooden coffin. Snooks was exhumed, placed in the coffin and reinterred at the same spot. In 1904 the trustees of the common supplied two simple stones to mark the grave, inscribed with just his name and the date of the execution.
The grave has been subjected to several nocturnal searches, reputedly in order to obtain the skull for magical rites. Today the stones still stand some 20m off the A41 on Boxmoor Common between Bourne End and Boxmoor.