Manor Farm in Ladbroke dates back, according to the data on British Listed Buildings, to the mid 18th century. For architectural historians, it adds:
Squared coursed lias with quoins and coped gables. Slate roof with brick end stacks. L-shaped plan. 2 storeys plus attic; 3-window range of C20 three-light casements in original openings with stone flat arches to ground floor. C20 door with stone flat arch. 2 gabled dormers. C20 one-storey lean-to to left. Interior: noted as having stop-chamfered spine beams and large open fireplace, refaced C19. C18 central staircase with turned balusters.
In September 1925, the farm had been bought by Cecil Crabtree and his wife, Milly Illngworth Crabtree, (neé Fawcett). The couple had married in 1923 in Halifax, and had a son, Brian, aged eighteen months and a daughter, Betty, just six months old.
Crabtree was clearly a man with ambitions, and also had farming interests at Burton Farm, Neston, Cheshire. When the family moved down to Ladbroke, a young man called George Sharpes accompanied them as stockman. It appears that Cecil Crabtree had taken on Sharpes in a spirit of benevolence, as the the young man had, for four years, been an inmate of the Farm Training Colony, a reformatory for boys at Newton-le-Willows, and was considered to be “a wrong ‘un”. Sharpes’s parents lived in Crewe, where his father was a railway worker.
A young girl called Kathleen Coleman, aged 10, lived in one of the farm cottages with her mother and father – who worked for Mr Crabtree. Kathleen often helped out in the house, and on the afternoon of 13th January 1926, she made a chilling discovery. She went upstairs to Mrs Crabtree’s room, as one of the babies was crying. She told the inquest:
” I saw George lying on the bed with his throat all bleeding, and he told me to tell daddy to come. I ran and told father, who was in the cowshed.”
Her father, Sibert Pearson Coleman ran to the house, and saw George Sharpes, but was about to make another much more terrible discovery:
“His (George’s) throat was bleeding. I asked him what was the matter, and he said —’ Never mind me; go down to the missus. I have killed her.’ I ran down to the sitting-room, and found Mrs Crabtree lying dead in a pool of blood. She was bleeding from wounds in the face and the back of the head. I saw that she was past aid. One of the children was on the settee crying.”
Inspector Cresswell, of Southam, was called to Manor Farm (above, as it was at the time) and when he arrived he found Mrs Crabtree lying on the floor of the sitting room, face downwards. There was a large quantity of blood near the head, and marks of blood on bureau, and also on the wall about five feet up. He found a hammer lying on the sofa, with blood and hair adhering to it. Seeing there was nothing he could do for Mrs Crabtree, the inspector returned to Sharpes, who was lying on the bed in Mrs Crabtree’s bedroom with a wound in his throat. There was a bloodstained shoemaker’s knife on the bed beside him. The wound was slight. There was towel and a suit of pyjamas wound round his head.
On seeing the Inspector, Sharpes muttered,“Let me die! Leave me alone, and let me die!”
The inspector called for a car and Sharpes was removed to the hospital in Leamington Spa, where he was detained. Cresswell said later that it seemed Mrs Crabtree’s skull was crushed in on the left side above and below the left ear.and probably done with one blow.
Cecil Crabtree was contacted and returned as fast as he could, in a state of understandable shock. There was little doubt who was responsible for his wife’s murder, and once the inquest had been comcluded, she was buried in Ladbroke churchyard on a snowy winter afternoon. The report in The Rugby Advertiser of Friday 22nd January was heartfelt:
IN PART TWO – Trial, motive – and justice