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THE MURDER OF JANICE ANN HOLMES . . . Lincolnshire, April 1959 (part two)

Janice header

SO FAR: Binbrook, Lincolnshire, April 1959. On the night of 12th April, 12 year-old Janice Holmes has gone missing from her home near Hall Farm, an isolated group of buildings two miles east of the village. The police are now involved, and Janice’s hat has been found, but a more terrible discovery is imminent.

At around 2.00am on the morning of 13th April, the searchers discover Janice’s body in a spinney just off Lambscroft Lane. The grim facts were reported to the subsequent Coroner’s inquest:

“A hundred yards away from the hat.” said Mr. Hutchison. “they found the body of the dead child. It was just inside the wood. The right arm was above the head. A shoe was missing and she was lying in undergrowth.”  Janice’s clothing was disarranged. Death was due to asphyxia. caused by strangulation with some thin ligature and there had been some violation of her sexual parts. There were numerous bruises on the child.”

Enter, stage left –  as they say – William Thomas Francis Jenkin. He was born in Cornwall in 1934, had married Hilda M Louis in Basford, Notts, in 1955. At the time of this story, they had two children, and a third was on the way, due in October. A later newspaper report suggested that he had served with British Forces in Cyprus.§

§The Greek Cypriot War of Independence  was a conflict fought in British Cyprus between November 1955 and March 1959.

Tom Jenkin and his family had only arrived at Hall Farm relatively recently, in March of that year, but it seems he had already struck up a friendship with Janice Holmes. Janice, when not at school, often went to help her mother in the fields, and met Jenkin on several occasions. He had (not a euphemism) shown her his stamp albums, and had also promised to collect some frogspawn for her from a nearby pond so that she could watch the tadpoles develop.

It appeared that Jenkin had been out and about on his bike at the time Janice disappeared. There was to be a hint that Ada, Janice’s mother, had a feeling that something was not quite right about Jenkin, as it was later reported in court that during the search, she said to Jenkin, “What have you done with Janice ? ” He replied : “There’s other folks in the place besides me.”

Fiend

By mid morning on 13th April, police had begun to issue requests to all cafés and public places in the area to be on the look-out for bloodstained clothing, and officers were at the Louth RDC refuse depot checking the contents of vehicles as they were unloaded. Meanwhile, the national press had taken up the story of Janice’s murder.

The only suspect the  police had was Jenkin, and the evidence against him was circumstantial. Yes he had been out and about on his bike, but no-one had seen him. But then, a key piece of evidence broke the case wide open, at least as far as the police were concerned. A tobacco tin belonging to Jenkin was found near the murder site. He admitted that it was his, but had no explanation as to why it was found where it was.

At 3.30pm on Thursday 16th April, Supt. Anthony Tew, head of Cleethorpes police, formally charged Jenkin with the murder of Janice Holmes. He was arrested and taken into custody.

Daily Mirror

Janice was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Binbrook, on the afternoon of Friday 17th April. A little later, William Thomas Francis Jenkin appeared in front of the magistrates at Market Rasen, just seven miles or so down the road from Binbrook. What followed makes it clear that the police were struggling to find any forensic connection between Jenkin and Janice. Yes, they had discovered tiny spots of blood on the man’s clothing, but the forensic technology at the time was nothing as precise as it is today, and no definite link could be proved. Jenkin was remanded  several times at market Rasen, with no new evidence appearing. On Jenkin’s final appearance at Market Rasen on Thursday 14th May, his solicitor, Mr Skinner said:

“The bicycle ride suggested opportunity, but the mere fact that Jenkin was out alone is not evidence against him. There were probably ten other people about at the time. End this now. This man’s anxiety should be ended now rather than later.”

Unfortunately for Jenkin, the magistrates did not agree, and he was further remanded to appear at Nottingham Assizes in June. I can find no explanation as to why the trial was sent to Nottingham, other than that the final magistrate hearing was too close to the opening date of the Lincoln Assizes, which seems to have been at the very beginning of June.

Jenkin appeared before Mr Justice Havers on 23rd June, but the next day, the police attempts to find justice for Janice were dealt a further blow.

Jury disagree

The ‘show’ moved on to Birmingham, and on 14th July the same evidence was presented, with the same witnesses, but in front of a different judge and jury. The case for the defence was much the same, and it rested on the tobacco tin which, they said, could have been picked up by a third party and placed near the murder site. Neither judge nor jury were having any of this, and Jenkin was found guilty. I am certain that he avoided the death penalty because the case against him was anything but cast iron. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Hilda Jenkin (25) who gave evidence for her husband, collapsed when he was found guilty. She said afterwards: “I will wait for him. I know he could not have done it”

It has to be said that there were two other theories about Janice’s death in circulation at the time. One involved a mysterious stranger in a large car who had been seen around the village, and the other – possibly connected – was that the intended victim was Janice’s friend, Susan.

Mistake

We next hear of William Thomas Francis Jenkin in 1998. He was released from prison in 1975 having served just sixteen years, but In April 1998, aged 64, he was living back in Cornwall, and while the police were investigating him for another offence, they found an air rifle in his wardrobe. This was in breach of his parole conditions imposed for another offence, apparently, in 1980. Unable to pay the fine, he was remanded in custody and brought up before the judge at Truro Crown Court in October of that year. The judge ordered the weapon to be destroyed and gave Jenkin a conditional discharge for eighteen months.

Did Jenkin kill Janice Holmes? 63 years later, the only thing that is certain is that we will never know. All we can hope, if we believe in such things, is that Janice sleeps with the angels.

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Binbrook

THE MURDER OF JANICE ANN HOLMES . . . Lincolnshire, April 1959 (part one)

Janice header

The Lincolnshire village of Binbrook was once the size of a small market town. It encompassed the lost medieval village of Orford and, more recently, RAF Binbrook which opened in 1940 as a Bomber Command base, and continued as an active airfield until it finally closed in the 1980s, although the runways were maintained as a relief landing strip for RAF Scampton until the 1990s. The buildings that remain are now used commercially, but the former housing stock now makes up the village of Brookenby.

Binbrook School

In April 1959, Janice Ann Holmes was twelve years-old, and lived with her mother Ada in one of a number of farm cottages at Hall Farm, about two miles east of the village. Mrs Holmes acted as housekeeper to one of the workers, a Mr Barley. Her husband James was separated from the family and lived in Leicester. Janice Holmes was a bright girl, and had taken her Eleven Plus exam the previous year at Binbrook Primary School (above). She won a scholarship to Cleethorpes Grammar School. Each school day, she cycled into Binbrook to catch the school bus, and did the journey in reverse in the afternoon. Although just two miles from the village, the area around Hall Farm is lonely and, at the wrong time of day or in the wrong weather, desolate.

On the evening of Monday 13th April, Janice had come home from school as usual, helped her mother for a while, and then gone home to make the tea. Close by the cottage where Janice and her mother lived was another house where Susan Baker lived. Susan was fifteen, had already left school, and was working as a domestic servant for Mr Allbones, the tenant of Home Farm. She came round to Janice’s house at 6.15pm, and the two girls watched television for a while, before going out for a walk. They returned at about 7.15pm, and watched some more TV. Susan decided to go home, and Janice said she would go part of the way with her. When they reached Susan’s gate, they said goodbye, and Susan later testified that she heard the sound of Janice’s footsteps as she ran back to her own house. She never arrived. Bear in mind the Hall Farm area was not a well-lit modern housing estate. The cottages were scattered over a significant area, and deep into an April evening it would have been dark.

Initially, Ada Holmes was not too concerned about Janice’s absence, but when 9.00pm became 9.30pm, she had a sense that something was not right. She went to the nearby cottages, but no-one had seen her daughter. Mr Allbones, the farmer, organised a search party with torches, but at 11.00pm, still with no sign of Janice, he informed the police. Eventually, at 2.00am on the Tuesday morning, just off the narrow road known as Lambcroft Lane, the searchers found Janice’s hat. Much worse was to follow.

IN PART TWO
A grim discovery
A suspect|
A trial

THE WHITE HORSE MURDER . . . A brutal killing in a Lincolnshire market town (2)

WHITE HORSE HEADER

SO FAR – Market Deeping, Lincolnshire. September 1922. On Wednesday 20th, 18 year-old Ivy Dora D’Arcy had married her sweetheart, George Prentice. On the following Monday, her widowed mother Edith – landlady of The White Horse – was to remarry. At around 9.00pm on Saturday 23rd, Edith, Ivy, her sister Gertrude, and Edith’s soon-to-be daughter in law Eva are examining wedding presents in a back parlour, lit only by a candle. As ever, what happened next is vividly described by a local newspaper:

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At the coroner’s inquest on Monday 25th September, Edith D’Arcy explained that she was now Mrs Kitchener. Her new husband’s rather hard-hearted employers The Great Northern Railway Company, had refused to extend his leave of absence despite the tragedy, and so they had been married just an hour or so before arriving at the inquest. They are pictured below.

Mum arrives

Barely managing to keep her composure, she told the court that in the darkness, no-one realised what had actually happened. She said:

“Gertrude cried, “Bring a light, Ivy has been shot. I got some matches and lit the gas, and I saw them lifting Ivy onto a chair. She was smothered in blood, and a big clot of blood as big as my hand lay on her lap.”

What she saw was described in more chillingly anatomical terms by the doctor who was called to the scene:

“Dr. Benson stated that he was called to The White Horse Hotel soon after 9.20, on Saturday evening. Deceased was dead on his arrival. Her clothing was saturated with blood, and there was a 2½ inches by 3 inches wound on the left breast, whilst several ribs were smashed. A large cavity was formed In the thorax. The full charge from the gun had entered her chest at close range, from close range. Death was instantaneous, and due to haemorrage and shock. The wound was consistent with having been caused by the charge of a sporting gun such as that produced.”

It is almost impossible to imagine the devastating effect this murder would have had on George Prentice. For three days he had a lovely young wife with the promise of children and years of happiness. Because of an instant of jealous rage, those dreams lay in tatters. He is pictured below, the man on the right, supported by a friend, arriving at the inquest.

George arrives cropped

Worse was to come for George Prentice. He had to watch as his young wife was lowered into the ground on Wednesday 27th September while the solemn words of the burial sentences were intoned.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord : he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet Shall He live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shalt stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

It is hardly surprising that the occasion was too much for George Prentice to bear.

Husbands Collapse

Ivy’s grave is very weathered, but can still be found in Market Deeping cemetery.

Ivy Dora Prentice smaller

FRANK FOWLERScreen Shot 2022-06-07 at 20.39.30

As for Fowler, (pictured left, leaving the inquest) he was clearly as guilty as sin. In his mind he had painted a picture in which he and Ivy D’Arcy were destined to be man and wife, despite the lack of any encouragement on her part. He was sent for trial at the autumn assizes in Lincoln, and it wasn’t until the jury found him guilty of murder, and the death sentence had been imposed by Mr Justice Lush  that his defence team  decided to ask for a  a repeal on the grounds of insanity. This was rejected, and Fowler was booked in for an appointment with the formidable Thomas Pierrepoint, (right). 13th December 1922 was a bad day for Lincolnshire, as the double execution despatched two men of the county, Fowler and a man called George Robinson who had murdered another 18 year-old girl in Dorrington.

Double Execution

As for Fowler’s motivation, one has to accept Edith Kitchener’s statement that there was never anything between Fowler and her late daughter. Whatever relationship there was must have existed purely in his own head. At the time of the shooting he was heard to say, “Now I’ve had my revenge.” He had determined that if he couldn’t have Ivy Dora D’Arcy, then no-one would.

These stories would wander interminably if we followed the future lives of the surviving participants, but thanks to Chris Berry, whose family tree Ivy D’Arcy is part of, I can add that George Prentice married again in 1927, to a woman called Florence Taylor. He died in October 1960, leaving the tidy sum of £20315 which is close on £330000 in today’s money. Edith and William Kitchener were recorded as living in Tallington in the 1939 register. She died in the spring of 1945, aged 75, while William died in the spring of 1951.

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THE WHITE HORSE MURDER . . . A brutal killing in a Lincolnshire Market town (1)

WHITE HORSE HEADER

The ancient Lincolnshire town of Market Deeping sits on the north bank of the River Welland, and its many 17th century buildings would have appeared, in 1922, pretty much as they do today. The census tells us that its population had steadily declined from a peak of nearly 1300 in 1871, to 888 in 1921. A small part of this decline was due to the sacrifice paid by the men of the town – in common with almost every other community across the land – during The Great War. 25 men of the town went to war and never returned, and a plaque in their honour was dedicated in St Guthlac’s church in December 1920.

One of the most elegant buildings in the town is The White Horse on Church Street. In 1922 the hotel was run by Edith Caroline D’Arcy, helped by her daughters. She was a widow, her husband William George having died in 1915 at the age of 53. There was great anticipation in the household that September, as there was to be a double wedding. Edith’s youngest daughter, Ivy Dora, was to marry local hairdresser George Prentice on Wednesday 20th, while Edith herself was to end her widowhood by marrying William Kitchener – a signalman from Tallington – on Monday 25th.

The Darcy family had moved around over the years. The 1891 census has George and Edith (and daughter Winifred) living in Penge, with George registered as a jobbing gardener. 1901 has them living in Halfleet, Market Deeping, and they are still there – but with Lucy, Gertrude and Ivy – in 1911. It appears they are living at The Oddfellows’ Arms, a Market Deeping pub long since gone.

1911 census

The D’Arcys seemed to be hardworking and a close family. Perhaps the same could not be said of Frank Fowler’s background. He was born in 1886, in  Langtoft, just a couple of miles north of Market Deeping. The 1891 census has him living with his parents Francis and Alice.

Fowler 1891

Frank FowlerBy 1901, however, he is still living in Langtoft, but with his grandparents Henry and Alice Rosling. His parents, along with daughter Henrietta and a younger son, Robert, had moved to Pickworth, 8 miles east of Grantham. One can only speculate why they left Frank – still only fourteen – behind. It is possible that there was no sinister reason behind this, as by then he may have been working, but it is not mentioned on the census return. In 1911 he is still living with his grandfather – now a widower – and certainly working on a farm. It seems he was either conscripted or joined up to fight in The Great War (pictured left), survived, and returned to Lincolnshire. In 1922 he was managing a farm owned by his aunt, a Mrs Ormer, and was a regular customer at The White Horse. It also seems he had developed an interest in the landlady’s daughter – Ivy Dora D’Arcy.

With all the characters in place, we must now move on to the events of the third week of September 1922. On the Wednesday, Ivy and George were married. They had not yet set up house together, but were staying in one of the guest rooms of The White Horse, helping prepare for Edith’s own wedding, scheduled for Monday 25th September. On the evening of Saturday 23rd, Edith and two of her daughters – Gertrude and Ivy (below) were in a candle-lit back parlour of the hotel, looking at some of Edith’s wedding presents. Suddenly, the door was violently kicked open, and a deafening blast of a shotgun doused the candle and plunged the room into darkness.

IVY DORA

IN PART TWO

A grisly discovery
A wedding and a funeral
Trial and retribution

THE STRANGE DEATH OF CATHERINE GEAR . . . A Lincolnshire murder (2)

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SO FAR: On the afternoon of October 8th 1907, a strange weekday drinks party had been held in a tied cottage belonging to Guy’s Head Farm near Sutton Bridge. Some of the drinkers went home for tea, the tenant of the cottage, William Gear, departed in fetch more beer, leaving his wife, Kate, alone in the house with their lodger, William Duddles. When her returned, he found that his neighbours had found Mrs Gear lying on the floor of the cottage, mortally wounded, a bloodstained hammer by her side. Of Duddles, there was no sign.

The police went in search of Duddles, and he was soon found. A newspaper reported:

“Sergeant Taylor, of Long Sutton, went in search of him. and he was discovered in the Marsh, near to the sea bank. He was then charged with attempted murder, the deceased at that time not being dead. His hands and clothing bore marks of blood, and in answer to the charge he said, “A still tongue makes a wise head,” and made no definite statement.”

The same newspaper went on to say:

“At Long Sutton, on Wednesday, William Duddles, aged forty-seven, was charged with the wilful murder of Catherine Gear, aged thirty-six, at Lutton Marsh, on October 8th. Supt. Osborn, of Spalding, gave evidence similar what is stated above. Sergt. Taylor, stationed Long Sutton, said he charged the prisoner with the attempted murder of Mrs. Gear, in Lutton Marsh, that afternoon. Prisoner replied : ” I have never done anything wrong before ; I am a bad ‘un, I know. I have been put on.” A short time afterwards he said: “A still tongue makes a wise head ; I shan’t say nowt.”

“That morning, from further information, and after cautioning him again, witness charged him with the wilful murder of Catherine Gear, and he made no reply. The prisoner was remanded until Wednesday, the l6th. He appeared in court with a black eye and cuts on the left temple and over the left eye, which, it was suggested, indicated that the woman had tried to defend herself. The inquest was held on Wednesday evening, before Dr. Barritt the Spalding District Coroner, at Lutton Marsh. William Gear, the husband, said that he and his wife got on very well together. A lodger named Duddles had been with them about two years, he occasionally had some words with them when was in drink, and sometimes made imputations against deceased.”

“They had some words recently. Duddles called his wife some some abusive names, and witness, taking her part, struck him. On Tuesday, witness went out at four o’clock to fetch some beer, and upon returning found his wife lying on the floor with her head in a pool of blood, a coal hammer lying few yards away. She was not dead, but was unconscious. Evidence was also given by Edwin Hocking, living next door, and a neighbour named Towson. The inquiry was adjourned until Monday next, and a post-mortem examination was ordered. The hammer, with which the tragedy alleged was alleged to have been enacted was produced in Court; it is an engineer’s hammer, fifteen inches long, with a heavy head of iron.”

Church

The funeral of Kate Gear was a lonely and bleak affair:

Funeral

Justice moved swiftly in the case of William Duddles. He was swiftly indicted for murder, and sent for trial at the November Assizes in Lincoln. This was not before the national press had a few things to say about him.

Demon

IPNThe “diminutive man of repulsive appearance” was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death by the judge, despite the jury recommending mercy due to the prisoner’s mental state. One of the strange things about this case is that newspapers at the time normally reported verbatim anything said in court, either by the accused or his legal representatives. In this case, I have been able to find absolutely nothing. Defence barristers are known to this day for concocted elaborate excuses when pleading clemency for their clients, but here they either had nothing to say, or it was never reported. The obligatory plea for mercy was sent to the Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone (son of the great former Prime Minister) but it fell on deaf ears, and William Duddles was executed on 20th November in Lincoln Prison. In charge of proceedings were the Pierrepoint brothers, Henry and Tom – father and uncle to the more celebrated Albert.


The classic mantra of solving murders – both real and fictional –  is ‘Means, Motive and Opportunity’. In the case of William Duddles, the means and opportunity are obvious, but the big question remains “why”? From the limited evidence that remains available through old newspapers, it is hard not to conclude that there was a sexual element in this murder. Out of consideration for the dead woman and her family, the newspapers would have remained silent, but it seems to me that Kate Gear was, in some way, tormenting Duddles over a period of time, perhaps promising much but delivering little, and the teasing became too much for a man of limited intelligence made dangerous by drink.


Does this excuse what he did? Never in a million years. He battered a woman to death and, depending on your views on capital punishment, was punished accordingly. There is a strange undercurrent to this case – the mid-week drinking binge being the strangest – that will remain a mystery. Kate Gear lies in the peaceful churchyard of St Nicholas, Lutton, while her killer is buried in the poignant little plot reserved for hanged men within the grounds of Lincoln Castle.

THE STRANGE DEATH OF CATHERINE GEAR . . . A Lincolnshire murder (1)

Duddles header

On a bright summer day, the table-flat marshland between Long Sutton and The Wash is beautiful. Endless blue skies, waving fields of wheat and skylarks singing overhead. On a grey autumn afternoon, however, the countryside takes on a much more menacing aspect. It was on such an afternoon in October 1907 that a brutal murder took place near Guy’s Head Farm. Two people are central to the drama, a 36 year-old farm labourer’s wife named Catherine Gear, and a 47 year-old man called William Duddles.

William Duddles was born in 1860 in High Toynton, just on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. In the 1891 census he is living with his mother and sister in Boston. Somehow he doesn’t appear in the 1901 census, but we know that in 1907 he was working on Guys Head Farm, on the left bank of Tycho Wing’s Channel, the arrow straight cut that takes the River Nene into The Wash. He was lodging with another farm worker in their tied cottage. William Gear and his wife Catherine, always known as Kate. They had married in 1898, and she was from the Bontoft family, born in Wrangle, between Boston and Skegness.

On the afternoon of Tuesday 8th October 1907, some employees of Guy’s Head Farm were, for whatever reason, not engaged in honest toil. In the Gear’s cottage Kate, William, Duddles and two other workers, James Towson and Edwin Hocking, were having a party which certainly involved drinking beer, if nothing more sinister. At some point, the beer ran out, and William Gear volunteered to walk the mile or so to Gedney Drove End and fetch more beer from one of its three pubs. By the time he returned, Towson and Hocking had, as they used to say, ”made an excuse and left”, leaving Kate Gear and William Duddles in the cottage on their own.

What William Gear found in his cottage when he returned with fresh supplies was not a convivial booze-up, but a dying woman – his wife. She had been battered about the head with something heavy and deadly. She lay on the floor, her life oozing away inexorably from a terrible head wound. Gear’s return to the cottage had coincided with neighbours hearing some kind of disturbance and going to the cottage to investigate. Their evidence was later reported in the newspaper:

“Whilst witness (Mrs Jane Hocking) was getting her tea a friend who was with her remarked, ” I think I can hear a scream,” and upon going into Gear’s house they found the woman in a dying condition. Robert Stebbings, labourer, of Lutton Marsh, said about the time of the tragedy he noticed William Duddles coming from the direction of Gear’s cottage, and at the same time Mr Gear was going an opposite direction, Duddles turned off to avoid him. When Duddles passed witness he noticed that he was in excited and frightened state, and witnessed confessed to being alarmed at his appearance. He stated that a fortnight previously he had heard Duddles say, ” I will be the death of the **** if I swing for it.”

The sensationalist newspaper, The Ilustrated Police News, were quick to have one of their house artists draw a dramatic reconstruction of the discovery of Kate Gear’s body.

IPN2

The police and medical help were summoned, but Kate Gear was beyond help, and she died later that evening without ever recovering consciousness. A heavy coal hammer, its head bearing the marks of blood, bone, hair and skin tissue had been discarded next to the woman’s body, and was obviously te murder weapon, but where was William Duddles, the obvious culprit? The Boston Guardian reported on Duddle’s movements – and the amount he had drunk:

After the murder

IN PART TWO:

An arrest, a funeral, an execution – and a mystery

THE MURDER OF LUCY LINGARD . . . A Grimsby tragedy (part two)

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SO FAR: Grimsby, 18th November 1902. Lucy Lingard is separated from her husband John. She and her children live in Hope Street, and she has been in a relationship with Samuel Harold Smith (Harry), a trawlerman. He has returned from sea, and the couple have spent the afternoon and evening drinking and arguing. Smith has hit Lucy several times, but they return to their house, both drunk. A newspaper reported what happened next.

Cutting 1

InquestThe report was overly optimistic. Lucy Lingard hovered between life and death for a while, but on the Sunday, four days after the attack, she died of her injuries, described below at the subsequent inquest.

Dr Harold Freeth, house surgeon at the Hospital, gave evidence to the effect that the deceased died in the Hospital from exhaustion, following on from injuries, which he described. There were eleven incised wounds in all, chiefly on the chest and the left arm. One of the most serious wounds was that on the upper side of the left breast, and penetrated through the first rib into the chest cavity. The deceased had lost a great deal of blood. Witness had made a post-mortem examination. The wound which penetrated the chest had set up acute inflammation, and there was also inflammation of the pericardium. In reply to a juryman, the witness said the deceased’s organs were quite healthy before the injuries were inflicted.”

Bizarrely, despite the eye-witness testimony of Lucy Lingard’s daughter, who had witnessed the attack, and the fact that he had admitted his guilt when arrested, Smith pleaded not guilty. Another newspaper reported on young Rose’s demeanour.

Rose

Sir_William_Rann_Kennedy_1915Inevitably, the Coroner’s court, convened at the beginning of December, declared Smith to be guilty of murder, and now it would be up to the Lincoln Assizes court, Judge and Jury, to determine his fate. Smith spent the rest of December – including Christmas – and the greater part of February in Lincoln gaol. On Wednesday 25th February 1903, before Mr Justice Kennedy (right), Samuel Henry Smith  ‘had his hour in court’. Despite the suggestion to the jury that the charge should be reduced to one of manslaughter, it all went badly for Smith.

“The Lincolnshire Assizes were resumed yesterday before Justice Kennedy. Samuel Henry Smith, aged 45, fisherman, was indicted for the wilful murder of Lucy Margaret Lingard. at Grimsby, on the 18th November last. Mr Etherington Smith and Mr Lawrence appeared for the prosecution, and at the request of the Judge Mr Bonner undertook the defence. The case was sordid one. The deceased woman lived apart from her husband at 3, Taylor’s Terrace, Hope Street, Grimsby, and the accused had been in the habit of staying with her. On November 18th last the couple were out together during the afternoon, and on their return had some words, and the prisoner struck the woman. Afterwards they again went out, and when they returned late at night with a lodger and another woman, they were the worse for drink. The quarrel was resumed after a time, and, according to the evidence of the woman’s thirteen-year-old daughter, the accused took out a knife, and, rushing at the deceased, stabbed her several times. She died in the hospital on the following Sunday. On the prisoner’s behalf, Mr Bonner suggested that the jury would be justified in finding him guilty of manslaughter. The crime was undoubtedly due to drink, and he submitted that at the time of its commission the prisoner was not in condition to exercise any discretion as to the result of what he was doing. The jury found the prisoner guilty of Wilful Murder,” and he was sentenced to death.”

William-Billington copy

Smith’s legal team had applied to the Home Secretary, Viscount Chilston, for a reprieve, but he was not minded to be merciful. Likewise a petition set up by residents of Smith’s home town, Brixham, was ignored. On Tuesday 10th March, Samuel Henry Smith was marched to the scaffold by the executioner, William Billington (left). The role of state executioners was often kept within families. Just as the Pierrepoint family had several hangmen – Henry, Thomas and Albert, William Billington took over the job – along with brothers John and Thomas – when their father, James, died in 1901. Newspaper reporters, at this time, were still officially allowed to witness executions first hand, but in practice, most prison governors (and the hangmen) preferred if they didn’t, due to sensationalised and lurid accounts of the prisoners’ last moments. Whether the reporter from the LIncolnshire Chronicle saw the end of Samuel Henry Smith with his own eyes, or simply used his imagination, we do not know:

“According to recent Home Office regulations the black flag is not now displayed and all that told of the end was the tolling of the prison bell just after hour had struck. Inside the Prison, where there were only officials, the scene was impressively quiet. Wm. Billington the executioner, and his brother John, had arrived on the previous night. Early on the fateful morn the Rev. C.H. Scott visited the condemned man, who listened to his ministrations with attention and apparent gratitude. At ten minutes to eight o’clock County Under-Sheriff (Mr. Chas. Scorer) entered the cell, and approaching Smith requested him to prepare for execution. To all appearance he remained quite calm, and with a steady voice intimated that he was prepared to meet his death. Quietly he submitted himself to the executioner for the necessary pinioning process, and walked unfalteringly to the scaffold, and within two minutes all was over. Billington allowed a drop of 7ft. 3in. To the witnesses death appeared to be absolutely instantaneous and there was scarce a motion of the rope after the body disappeared from sight in the space below the drop.”

All that remained was for Samuel Henry Smith’s body to be buried in the gaol cemetery, along with dozens of other executed killers, and his name to be entered in the official record book.

Prison record

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THE MURDER OF LUCY LINGARD . . . A Grimsby tragedy (part one)

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Lucy Margaret Mullins was born in the village of Worlaby in 1869. Her father James was Irish, and worked as a groom. Her mother Jane was from the Lincolnshire village of Great Limber. In the 1881 census the family had moved to Little Limber Grange, near Brocklesby. In April 1889, Lucy married John Lingard in St James Church, Grimsby, and the census two years later shows that they were living at 6 Vesey’s Buildings in Grimsby, and they already had two children, Rose (2) and William (10 months). By 1901 they had moved to Sixth Terrace, Hope Street, and had two more children, Nellie (8) and Arthur (4). Also living in the house were two of Lucy’s adult relatives.

The 1901 census was taken on 1st April, and by the autumn of the next year John and Lucy Lingard had separated, Lucy remaining in Hope Street with the children. By the autumn of 1902 she had given birth to another child, born earlier in the year. The census also tells us that a fisherman named Samuel Henry Smith was also living in Hope Street, apparently on his own. His background has been difficult to track. The census records that he was born in Norfolk, but later newspaper reports suggest that his home town was Brixham in Devon.

It is not clear if Harry Smith was in any way responsible for the break up of the Lingards’ marriage, but by November 1902 it was clear that Lucy Lingard and Harry Smith (also separated from his spouse) were in a relationship, when he was not out on the North Sea on a trawler.

At this point, it is worth pausing the story to compare how people lived – in terms of house occupancy – back in the day. It was very common for ordinary working people to share houses with others. I was born in 1947, and my parents rented a room in a Victorian terraced house, which was shared with another couple and the owner, a single man. Each had a bedroom to themselves, and the kitchen and scullery were shared. There was no bathroom. There was running water, but also a pump in the scullery which drew water from a well. There was no electricity until, I think, 1951 and lighting was from gas lamps which were lit by pulling a little chain, which struck a flint, rather like the mechanics of a cigarette lighter.

Before demolition

Screen Shot 2022-09-10 at 18.37.47Hope Street in Grimsby was cleared of its terraces in the late 1960s (pictured above, thanks to Hope Street History), but a late 19th century map shows back-to-back houses opening directly onto the street, and every so often there would courtyards, each open area being surrounded on three sides by further dwellings. For those interested in the history of Hope Street, there is a Facebook page that gives access to an excellent pdf document describing the history of the street. That link is here. It is also worth pointing out that house ownership, certainly in 1902, would have been in the hands of landlords. The great majority of people in streets like Hope Street would be tenants.

We must now move on to the events of 18th November 1902. Harry Smith’s trawler docked that morning, and he had spent the best part of the afternoon and early evening in the company of Lucy Lingard. Smith at one point went down to the docks to collect his wages from his latest voyage. He and Lucy Lingard were at each other’s throats, perhaps because she had refused him ‘conjugal rights’, and he had struck her several times, giving her two black eyes. In spite of this, they went out drinking again, but what happened when they returned to Hope Street later that evening was to send a shiver of revulsion through the whole area.

IN PART TWO
A daughter’s testimony
Denial, trial – and the black cap

“ENOUGH TO KILL FIFTY PEOPLE” . . . The Wrangle Poisoner, 1884 (2)

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SO FAR: Wrangle Tofts, Lincolnshire, February 1884. 60 year-old Willam Lefley has died in agony, after eating what he claimed was poisoned rice pudding. Forensic investigations have discovered that there was a huge amount of arsenic in the pudding. Lefley’s wife Mary has been arrested on suspicion of causing his death.

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It came to light that Lefley was not in the best of health mentally. There were reports that he had contemplated suicide. Why? We do not know. He was not in any great debt. His marriage was relatively loveless, but many people muddle through that particular situation without seeking to kill themselves. A family member called William Lister later gave evidence under oath:

Suicide

Sir_Ford_North_Vanity_Fair_29_October_1887Based mainly on the question, “Who else could have done it?” Mary Lefley was sent for trial at the Lincoln Assizes. She was to appear before Mr Justice North. Mary’s defence barrister made the point:

“Unfortunately you must know in this county of Lincoln, the possession of arsenic in the country districts is not unusual. Arsenic is used for a of purposes of harmless character; and it Is for that very reason it may get into the possession of persons without exciting suspicions that may render very difficult to trace the particular occasion when arsenic came Into the possession of any individual or any house.”

The main spine of Mary Lefley’s defence had two strands:
(1) Absence of motive. Despite the lack of love between the pair, there was neither a huge sum of money nor commercial prospects coming to Mary Lefley on her husband’s death. There was never any suggestion that there was another man with whom she planned to make a new life after William’s death.
(2) No forensic connection between Mary Lefley and the arsenic overload in the fatal rice pudding.

The Lincoln Assizes jury found Mary Lefley guilty of murder, and Mr Justice North (above right) duly donned his black cap and sentenced her to death. She was sent back to Lincoln gaol to await her fate.

Awaiting death

Newspapers at the time loved a good hanging. It gave them the opportunity to sympathise with the condemned prisoner while, at the same time, signaling their virtue (a condition which is still alive and well in 2022) Despite the fact that no reporters were present at the fateful event, one newspaper was able to report:

“A WOMAN HANGED AT LINCOLN. SCENE ON THE SCAFFOLD. Mary Lefley was executed in Lincoln on Monday morning, for having murdered her husband at Wrangle, near Boston, last February, by mixing arsenic with a rice pudding. A small crowd gathered outside the prison to await the hoisting of the black flag. The execution was entirely private, representatives of the press being excluded. Berry, of Bradford, was the executioner. Berry, it appears, carried out all the arrangements in a satisfactory manner, giving the culprit a drop of 9ft. A Wesleyan minister attended her up to the time of execution, when the chaplain of the prison continued his ministrations to the end. The prisoner was in a very despondent condition. She screamed with terror whilst being pinioned, and her lamentations are described as having been heartrending as she was being led to her doom. She had to be assisted on to the scaffold, and on the white cap being placed over her face, and just the bolt was withdrawn, she gave long despairing cry. She asserted her innocence the Wesleyan minister shortly before he left her, and to the last hoped a reprieve would be forthcoming.”

Mary Lefley was presumably interred along with previously executed men and women in the little burial ground which had been established in the Lucy Tower of Lincoln Castle. Was she the victim of a huge injustice? The only other alternatives to her being guilty are (1) That William Lefley committed suicide in a most elaborate and unlikely fashion, presumably to spite his wife and bring about her downfall. (2) That a third party, un-named and with no apparent motive, had put the poison in the rice pudding.

If Mary Lefley was innocent, she would not have been the first woman from the area to be wrongly convicted. In 1868, Stickney woman Priscilla Biggadyke was hanged for poisoning her husband. Her lodger, Thomas Proctor, was also initially charged with murder, but the charge was dropped. Years later, on his deathbed, Proctor confessed that he had administered the fatal dose.

In part one of this story I wrote that Lefley’s marriage was childless. Mick Lake contacted me and kindly gave me the information that there had been four children, James, Sarah, George and John. Sadly, Sarah died in childhood, but the three boys survived and had left home by 1881. There is no mention of them visiting their mother in prison.

This sad case, if nothing else, makes a departure from the mainstream litany of historical Lincolnshire murders, where men killed women. For other murder cases from Lincolnshire, click the image below.


Wolds

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