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"Sarah Ann Smith"

MARY ANN GARNER . . . A life and death (2)

Mary Ann header

SO FAR: March 1891. Mary Ann Garner, a 32 year-old widow, is living with her three children and teenage step son in a tiny end-of-terrace cottage in Stanley Place, Lincoln. She has been in a relationship with Arthur Spencer, a 22 year-old pork butcher. He has asked her to marry him, but she has refused. Spencer has not taken kindly to the snub.

On the evening of Monday 30th March Arthur Spencer arrived at 19 Stanley Place. He knocked at the door, and Mary Ann’s step son, John Henry Garner answered the knock. The subsequent conversation was later reported in court:
Mary Ann said, “Who’s there?”
“It’s me,” answered Spencer. (Earlier, Spencer had threatened to shoot Mary Ann and then himself if she wouldn’t marry him. She had not taken him seriously.)
She called out, “Have you got that pop-gun?”
Spencer replied, “No.”
Mary Ann said, “Let him in, John.”

At a court hearing, it was revealed that Mary Ann, despite appearing not to take Spencer’s threat seriously had thought of contacting the police. Spencer had previously lodged at the house, and she assumed that the young man had come back to collect his clothes and belongings. The sequence of events that followed was reported in a newspaper.

The shooting

Mary Ann was, sadly, beyond medical help, and she died in the small hours of the Tuesday morning. Spencer had been true to his word, and turned the gun on himself. It is debatable whether he exhibited the same fatal intent, however, as although he was taken to hospital, he was well enough to appear in court within a few days, charged with the murder of Mary Ann Garner.

At the subsequent coroner’s inquest, the effect of Spencer’s bullets was revealed:

“There is not much to add to the details published yesterday of the dreadful tragedy at Lincoln, except perhaps that later information only tends to intensify the horror which was felt at the cold-blooded premeditation of the murderer, for it was found at the post-mortem examination held on the body of the unfortunate victim that her assailant had fired four shots at her from the revolver. Two of these did no injury beyond causing superficial wounds on the woman’s body, but one fired into her breast and another at her back were both serious wounds. Either of them would have proved fatal.”

The melancholy sequence of events that follows a murder took their course. Mary Ann Garner was buried in Canwick Road cemetery on 3rd April, 1891. Arthur Spencer was brought before a coroner’s inquest, then the magistrates’ court, and finally the Assizes Court at Lincoln in July, where he appeared before Mr Justice Roland Vaughan Williams (below left), an uncle of the celebrated composer. The conclusion was inevitable, and on Tuesday 28th July, Arthur Spencer paid the ultimate price for killing Mary Ann Garner. The hangman was James Berry (below right)



The Gods of Misfortune had not finished their business with Mary Ann’s family, however. On Friday 28th June 1895, a newspaper ran this story:


It is a sad reflection on life that most murderers are men, and their victims are frequently women. The women should not be forgotten in Lincolnshire or anywhere else. Click the names below to read the stories of Lincolnshire women who met their deaths at the hands of men. By doing so, you will not bring them back to life, but at least they will not be forgotten. They are in chronological order according to when they were killed.

Louisa Hodgson
Louisa Hay
Mary Ann Garner
Harriet Rushby
Mary Eliza Bell
Ellen Kirk
Lucy Lingard
Sarah Ann Smith
Catherine Gear
Ivy Dora Prentice
Minnie Eleanor Kirby
Janice Holmes

‘I WILL HAVE HER BEFORE THE NIGHT IS OUT” . . . A brutal murder in 1903 Lincoln (1)

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I have been researching and retelling the stories of historic murders for  a long time now, and the overwhelming majority of these cases involve a man murdering a woman. There is rarely what one might call a motive, in the sense that the killer planned his act with the intent to gain an advantage. Occasionally, as with the Spalding Poisoner, the man plans the killing because he has another lover, but all too often, as is the case here, the murder is an act of rage, jealousy, with the sub-text of “If I can’t have you, then no-one will.”

The life of Sarah Ann Smith seems to be punctuated with misfortunes. Thomas Hardy, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles memorably imagined that our lives were manipulated by some unseen hand, moving us around like chess pieces for their own amusement.

“.. and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess.

The 1881 census has 9 year-old Sarah Ann Smith living in Greetwell Gate, Lincoln, with her parents John and Ann, and her two brothers. In 1891 she was working as a domestic servant in  a house on what was then called Asylum Road. The census that year was taken on 5th April, and in the summer of that year Sarah married Henry Healey Fletcher. Seven years later, on 17th February 1898 their son, Harold Fletcher was born. Sarah’s joy was to be short lived, because with twelve months both baby Harold and husband Henry would be dead. Henry Fletcher, an ironstone miner, hanged himself when rumours began to circulate that Sarah was having an affair with their lodger.

As in the case of Tess, the President of the Immortals had one last cruel joke to play on Sarah. She met and was wooed by a young bricklayer called Leonard Patchett, and in January 1900 they married in St Andrew’s church in Lincoln (picture below). Demolished in 1968, it was one of many Gothic revival churches designed by the celebrated Louth architect James Fowler.

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Leonard Pratchett was what used to be called ‘a wrong ‘un’. He was handy with his fists, especially with women, as his criminal record shows.

Criminal record

It wasn’t long before Sarah became fed up with Leonard’s casual brutality, and left him. There followed a sequence of uneasy reconciliations – and the birth of a daughter – Rachel Cecilia. The early summer of 1903 saw Sarah working as a housekeeper for a man named John King, a former military man who now worked as an insurance agent. He lived at 36 Spencer Street, Lincoln. Leonard, meanwhile was working in Gainsborough.

Towards the end of May, Leonard Pratchett took a train to Lincoln, with the intention of patching up his troubled marriage to Sarah. He sought her out at John King’s house, and on the evening of Tuesday 26th May, he asked her to walk with him to the station, from where he was going to catch the train back to Gainsborough. Earlier that evening, Sarah had been out when Patchett came looking for her, and he got into a conversation with a Mrs Emma Iremonger, next door neighbour to John King. It seems that Mrs Iremonger was looking after Rachel, who was a couple of months short of her second birthday. The exchange was reported in the press sometime later:

Emma Iremonger

John King later testified that he was uneasy about Sarah going off with her husband that evening, and asked her not to go, but she declined to take his advice. He waited up until 11.00pm that night, and when she still hadn’t returned by morning he contacted the police. Wednesday and Thursday passed without any sighting of Sarah Patchett.

The next events in this tale unfold in a part of Lincoln that is completely unrecognisable today, and it is only by looking at maps side by side that we can get some sense of the landscape in 1903. What is now Boultham Park Road was, in 1903, a private carriage road leading to Boultham Hall, and on either side there were open fields. North of the drain in 1903 was the Wellington Iron Foundry, where some of the first WW1 tanks were built. One of the employees at the foundry was a young man called Arthur Froggatt. They worked long shifts in those days, starting early and finishing late. The men were allowed a break for breakfast around 8.00 am, and on the morning of Friday 29th May, Arthur had walked across the footbridge over the drain to breath some fresh air after the intense heat and fumes of the foundry. He had only walked a little way down the carriage drive, when he saw something untoward. Again this is from a newspaper report taken down verbatim at a court hearing:


A revealing letter
Trial and execution

THE OUTRAGE AT OUTHILL . . . A brutal murder in rural Warwickshire (2)

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SpudSO FAR: 23rd April, 1862, rural Warwickshire, and a 21 year old ploughman, George Gardner,  employed by farmer Davis Edge at Outhill Farm, near Studley, has shot 24 year-old Sarah Kirby, employed by Edge as a domestic servant. Gardner’s peculiar state of mind before killing Sarah Kirby could almost be described as existential, in that it seemed to recognise neither logic nor the law – just his own obsession. He did, however, seem to have acknowledged the presence of chance. He had been uncertain that morning about killing Sarah Kirby, so he adopted a rural version of tossing a coin. Ploughmen used a hand-tool known as a “spud”. It was basically a flat blade, usually mounted on a wooden handle, (left} and used for clearing earth from the blades of the plough. Gardner decided to toss the tool in the air, and if it landed blade first, then Sarah Kirby would die. It did, and so did the young woman.

Garner needed to escape, and for that he needed protection from his pursuers – and money. He smashed open Davis Edge’s bureau, but found only small change. He took this, as well as the gun, the powder and the *shot flask.

*This was in the days before shotgun cartridges. There were three elements to a shotgun load. (1) the gunpowder tamped down via the barrel (2) the lead shot, likewise loaded from the muzzle, and (3) a small primer, known as a primer cap. This, when ignited by the gun’s hammer, would set off the powder which would, in turn, expel the shot.

Leaving the scene of his crime, Gardner set off to put distance between himself and the police. He managed to get to Stratford, where he sold the gun, powder and shot. Meanwhile, he was a hunted man:

“The police joined the villagers and gamekeepers, scoured the woods and surrounding country, and got upon the track the fugitive, whom they traced to Wootton, and thence to the Stratford Railway station, and ultimately to the junction of the Stratford branch with the West Midland main line at Honeybourne, where the police captured him.”

Gardner’s brutal nature was only matched by his stupidity. Waiting in Honeybourne to catch the next train to Oxford, he decided he had time for a drink, and went into a nearby inn, where he was later found by the police, almost unable to walk due to the amount of cheap gin he had drunk.

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Gardner’s subsequent trial at Warwick Assizes was something of a formality. His defence barrister made a half hearted attempt to prove that the gun had gone off by accident, but the jury knew a killer when they saw one, and the judge – Baron Pollock – duly donned the Black Cap, and sent Gardner back to the condemned cell. His execution was set for Monday 25th August. A newspaper report described the days leading up to the Gardner’s appointment with the executioner:

“Exactly a fortnight has therefore elapsed before the sentence was enforced. During his incarceration in Warwick Gaol Gardner has learnt to write ; and since receiving sentence has spent good portion of his time in both reading and writing. There is really no condemned cell in the gaol, and the one occupied by Gardner after condemnation differed in no respect from the others except that it was larger, and situated in that portion of the building nearest to the sleeping-rooms of the turnkeys, two of whom attended him day and night.

Since condemnation, he has dined on the usual prison fare, which consists of ½lb. of mutton chop, 1lb. of potatoes, 11b. of bread, and a pint of ale. He has slept well every night, and conducted himself altogether as well as could be expected. Mr. Carles, the chaplain, has afforded him what consolation of spiritual nature his state required, and latterly he appeared to be very penitent, and made a confession to the following effect:”


Screen Shot 2022-11-16 at 19.58.53Gardner had one further misfortune. His executioner was none other than George Smith (right), a former criminal and noted drunk, known – with rough humour – as The Dudley Throttler. This was to be a public execution, and a perfectly respectable form of cheap entertainment at the time. A reporter described the scene:

“At precisely eighteen minutes past ten the prisoner appeared upon the drop, attended by four warders, and Smith, the executioner. The clergyman did not, as is customary now, make his appearance upon the scaffold, and this, coupled with the absence of any tolling of the bell, robbed the ceremony of much of its impressiveness. The prisoner was dressed in the same clothes wore the trial—a short white smock and fustian trousers. The executioner also wore long white smock frock. After he had removed the prisoner’s neckerchief, and adjusted the rope upon his neck, Smith shook hands with the wretched man, and left the scaffold to draw the bolt.

A murmur of horror ran through the crowd, it being evident that the hangman had forgotten to place the cap over the culprit’s face in the usual manner. There the poor wretch stood, pinioned, the rope around his neck, facing the crowd. Everyone who saw him expected momentarily see him plunge downwards, and the horror of witnessing the wretched man’s death-agonies depicted in his face, unmasked, caused those who were even accustomed such scenes to turn away. The omission was noticed by one of the warders upon the scaffold, who called the executioner back, and he then produced the cap from his pocket. Altogether the wretched culprit must have stood face to face with the crowd for the space of ten minutes – to him it must have been a century of agony.

The bolt was drawn immediately afterwards, and the prisoner being a heavy man, the body fell with immense force, sufficient, we should imagine, if the rope had been properly adjusted, to have caused dislocation of the neck and a very speedy death. As it was. however, life was not pronounced extinct for at least twelve minutes. The body was afterwards buried within the precincts of the gaol. Owing to the position of the scaffold persons standing in the road can see very little of what takes place, and after the drop nothing but the cap of the culprit was visible. The number of spectators was between twelve and fourteen hundred, of whom least one third were women and children.”


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‘I WILL HAVE HER BEFORE THE NIGHT IS OUT” . . . A brutal murder in 1903 Lincoln (2)

Patchett header

SO FAR: Lincoln, May 1903. Sarah and Leonard Patchett have a troubled marriage. She works as a housekeeper in Lincoln, while he is a bricklayer in Gainsborough. At the end of May, he has traveled to Lincoln to see her. They have a daughter, Rachel, a few weeks short of her second birthday, and she lives with her mother at the house of John King in Spencer Street. Sarah is John King’s housekeeper. On the evening of Tuesday 26th May, Patchett has pleaded with his wife to come back to him, but she only agrees to walk with him to the railway station where he says he will catch a train back to Gainsborough.

After the evening of 26th May, Sarah Patchett is never seen alive again. The last sighting of her was recording in a court statement:

“Mr. J. H. Gadd, livery stable proprietor, stated that about seven o’clock on the night of Tuesday, May 26th, he was driving to his field in Boultham Lane in the company with one of his men. His man called his attention to a man and woman standing at the gate to the second field in Boultham Lane. The woman looked sad and distressed, and the man was in a leaning position with his foot on the lower bar of the gate. As he passed, the man turned round, and he caught full view of his face. On Saturday he identified the body the deceased as that of the woman saw the gate the previous evening.”

Sarah Patchett’s body was found in a field just west of the Boultham Park carriage road on the morning of 29th May. She had been strangled. When a coroner’s inquest was convened at Bracebridge, the details are still chilling over a century later:

medical report new

It might be of interest to show where Sarah Patchett was murdered. As far as I can tell, her body was found about 100 yards from the Boultham Board School on the west side of what was then the private carriage road leading to Boultham Hall. Now, of course, the ground where her body lay for three days (red circle) is long since built over. The graphic below may be helpful.

Then and now

Leonard Patchett was arrested and held in custody. When he was searched, a letter from his wife was found in his jacket. I have made a facsimile (below)

Dear Leonard

At the coroner’s inquest, the magistrates’ court and the subsequent Assizes at Lincoln, Patchett insisted he was innocent and, to be fair, the evidence against him was purely circumstantial. Unguarded remarks he made after his wife’s death painted a very different picture, however. When asked, back at the Gainsborough building site, if he was going up to work on the scaffold, he said, “The next scaffold I will be on will be the scaffold at Lincoln with a rope around my neck.”

What did he mean when he said to Mrs Iremonger, “I will have her before the night is out”? Did he mean he would come and  take his daughter, Rachel, or was it a threat to the life of his wife ?

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On Monday 6th July, Leonard Patchett was tried for murder at LIncoln, before Mr Justice Ridley (left). Patchett insisted he was innocent but the jury did not agree. The newspapers reported the inevitable conclusion:

“The jury took twelve minutes to consider their decision, and returned into Court with a verdict of “Guilty.” The prisoner heard the sentence apparently unmoved, and in reply to the question as to whether he had anything to say why sentence of death should not passed, replied firmly: “No, but I am perfectly innocent.” The Judge then put on the black cap and said he was bound to agree with the verdict the jury had given. It had been clearly established that the prisoner’s was the hand that strangled the unfortunate woman. The judge recommended him to try to make his peace with Almighty God during the few days of life that remained to him. Sentence of death was then passed. Prisoner received the solemn sentence without the slightest feeling, and then calmly turned round, and walked down the steps to the cells. His sister, who was in an adjoining room, fainted on hearing the sentence. The execution will take place in Lincoln Gaol.”

And so it did:


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Sarah Ann Patchett was buried in Canwick Road cemetery, while the body of her husband joined those of other hanged murderers in the little graveyard within the walls of the Lucy Tower at Lincoln Castle. There is one link to this terrible tale which takes us into relatively recent times (albeit fifty years ago). Rachel Ceciia Patchett was raised in various children’s homes and, by then known as Rachel Patchett-Smith, married James Newman in 1934. She died in 1972, and was buried at St Peter’s, Pilning, Gloucestershire. My thank to Mandy Freeman for the information about Rachel.



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