In Sleepy Hollow, after a 4th person is murdered by the headless horseman, one of the town leaders tells Johnny Depp's character (the constable) that there are in fact 5 victims, buried in 4 graves.

Confused, the constable has all the bodies exhumed and examines them to find that one of the murdered women was pregnant - thus the 5th murder.

He then victoriously announces her pregnancy after an examination, as if he's discovered something. But....if the townsperson already knew this, what was the point of exhuming the bodies to find it out again? The townspeople just told him this. I'm so confused.

What was the meaning of this exchange? Is there more to it than bad writing?

  • 4
    Just because one person knew doesn't mean everyone knew. And it's a deliberately vague statement requiring further information. I don't recall the story but a pregnancy for an unmarried woman would have been a major scandal.
    – Paulie_D
    Sep 6, 2023 at 6:00

1 Answer 1


It can't be directly mentioned to the constable, especially by a town elder or a local person. Due to societal censure or sanctions, people kept these secrets for themselves, and spreading the word around would be badly seen for both the women/men/couple and the whistleblower. It has to be an indirect means, and brought to light by a stranger, because knowing or revealing the facts may backfire and make the person look like a bad one or a traitor to the community (by tainting its reputation)1.1. Women weren't also supposed to be pregnant outside marriage, even if many often were1.2, and were frowned upon1.3.

The story is based on the common English law of the 18th century. The widow (Emily Winship), being pregnant (and thus, her child), would have inherited the wealth of the father (Van Garrett). It's about money, at least in the movie, but not only. Being loosely adapted from the book, it take most of its ideas, such as the romantic hero and the fight and "triumph of the individual over the 'restraints of theological and social conventions'".

Notary Hardenbrook reveals that the first victim, Peter Van Garrett, had secretly married the widow Winship, writing a new will that left his estate to her and her unborn child. Ichabod deduces that all the victims (except Brom) were either beneficiaries or witnesses to this new will, and that the Horseman's master is the person who would have otherwise inherited the estate: Baltus, Van Garrett's closest relative.2

But a broader study of the interaction of pregnant women and the courts in the 18th century reveals just how unsettled the question of fetal life was under English law. In fact, it shows that the cultural and legal apparatuses to manage pregnancy were not state interest in protecting fetal life, but rather a struggle for control over the bodies of women.3

Irving's depictions of regional culture and his themes of progress versus tradition, supernatural intervention in the commonplace, and the plight of the individual outsider in a homogeneous community permeate both stories and helped to develop a unique sense of American cultural and existential selfhood during the early 19th century.4

1.1 Illegitimacy, Family and Stigma in England -- 1.2 Bridal pregnancy in rural England - 16th to 19th century -- 1.3 Illegitimacy and marriage in 18th century England

2. Sleepy Hollow

3. 18th-century laws about pregnancy aimed to control women

4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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