SO FAR – On January 13th 1926, Milly Crabtree, 25 year-old wife of Cecl Crabtree, is found battered to death at their home, Manor Farm in Ladbroke. 19 year-old George Sharpes is arrested for her murder. As is the way with these, things, the wheels of justice turn very slowly, and it was February before Sharpes came to face magistrates in Southam. The courtroom, normally used as a cinema (pictured above), was packed, and the onlookers were spellbound as a confession from George Sharpes was read to the court.
I, George Sharpes, here wish to state how and why I murdered the deceased Mrs. Crabtree. On Wednesday morning, January 13th, the day I committed the crime, I went to work in the house about 9 a.m. The job I was doing was scraping paint off a skirting board. While I was sitting doing work, a thought entered my head to kill the deceased. Several ways entered my head, how to kill her, but in my mind I did not think these ways would have been successful So I let this thought keep on worrying me until dinner-time. When I went home it seemed to out of my mind all together.
When I came back in the afternoon the same thought came to me. This time I was working with a hammer, drawing nails out of the window. Then I came to a big nail just above the window and near to the door, the one which is opposite the front room door. Meanwhile the deceased had been past me on two occasions. The third time as she was coming past me I struck her on the side of the head and she fell down in the passage. Here I struck her again, and then I dragged her into the front room. When I came out I saw some blood on the floor, I took off my cap, cleaned up the mess, and threw my cap in the fire grate in the dining room. Then I went into the front room, and struck her again.
I seized pair of pyjamas and wrapped them round her head to stop her noise. The next thought that came to me was to do away with myself, so I went to look for a knife or a razor. As I was going through, the dining room, I passed the cowman’s daughter and she noticed that there was blood on hands. Then I went to Mr. Crabtree’s bench and there I found a knife. I then went upstairs and cut my throat. Even this did not kill me, so I tried again. Seeing this did not do it, I looked everywhere for a razor, but it was of no avail. As I was walking round I noticed a bottle labelled Camphorated Oil, Poison. I drank some of this, thinking it would bring me to a quick end. This made me feel faint, so I went back into Mr Crabtree’s bedroom. I knew that someone would find me, so I lay there.
This bizarre statement continued with what appeared to be a motive for the attack:
The magistrates wasted little time in stating that George Sharpes had a serious case to answer, and the case was moved on to be examined at the March Assizes in Warwick. The case was presided over by Mr Justice Shearman. The only possible line for the defence to take was that Sharpes was insane at the time at the time he committed the murder, and Sharpes’s mother was produced to state that her son had suffered an unfortunate childhood. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, however. Rejecting the claims that George Sharpes was insane, the judge donned the black cap and sentenced him to death. The execution was fixed for April and, as was almost always the case, a petition was set up to ask for clemency. The case was taken to appeal, in front of Lord Chief Justice Avory, who was perhaps not the most welcome choice for Sharpes’s defence team. Avory, a notorious “hanging judge”, had been memorably described:
“Thin-lipped, cold, utterly unemotional, silent, and humourless, and relentless towards lying witnesses and brutal criminals”.
Avory dismissed the appeal, and George Sharpes, just turned 20 years od age, was hanged in Winson Green prison on 13th April 1926. The hangman was William Willis, assisted by Robert Baxter. As was customary, Sharpes was interred in the graveyard inside Winson Green prison. His burial plot was unmarked, but the location was recorded in prison records. As for his victim, she lies, one hopes at peace, in a quiet corner of Ladbroke churchyard. Thanks to Maggy Smith for the photos.