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THE WARWICKSHIRE TRIPLE MURDER . . . Violent death visits Baddesley Ensor (2)

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SO FAR: It is Sunday 24th August 1902, and in the colliery village of Badley Ensor, the Chetwynd family live on Watling Street Road. The household consists of widow Eliza Chetwynd (62) her son Joseph (24) daughter Eliza (21) and Eliza’s eleven week old son, who had not yet been named. The baby’s father, George Place (29) also lives there, but there is a tense atmosphere, as Place had just been served with am Affiliation Summons, which made him legally responsible for the upkeep of the child.

The events of that fateful Sunday morning were reported thus in a local newspaper:

HeadlineLate on Saturday evening, after leaving a public-house in Wilnecote, Place told two men that he intended to do for the three of them (meaning the women and the child), and showed the men a six-chambered revolver and a packet of cartridges. He got to his lodgings shortly after midnight, and it was a curious circumstance that at ten minutes past one in the morning Mrs. Chetwynd saw a neighbour, Mrs. Shilton, and told her she was afraid Place was going to do something to them, for he had a revolver and had got a knife to open a packet of cartridges. 

The four rooms of the house were all occupied. The victims slept together in one bed in the room the right on the ground floor; the kitchen on the same floor was occupied by the son of Mrs. Chetwynd, who slept on a sofa ; Place slept in one room on the upper floor; and Jesse Chetwynd, another son of Mrs. Chetwynd, with his wife, who had come from Upper Baddesley for the night, used the other room.

At about a quarter to six in the morning Place came downstairs and entering the room where the women and child were asleep, deliberately shot each of them through the head, the bullets entering the right side of the head. The baby was in its mother’s arms at the time. The older woman must have had her hand up to her head, for two of her fingers had been wounded by the bullet. Jesse Chetwynd rushed downstairs on hearing the reports, and found Place sitting on the doorstep with the revolver in his hand. Place had neither hat nor jacket on. Jesse Chetwynd said to him ” Whatever have you been doing ” but Place made no reply.

The other son, Joseph, said Place had threatened him. and that Jesse’s coming down saved him from being shot. The poor old woman and the child died almost immediately, but the daughter lay unconscious for about four hours, when she succumbed. The old lady was heard to exclaim “Oh !” when Mrs. Jackson, a neighbour, went in. The murderer walked, away quietly from the scene of the tragedy. He took the the public road to Atherstone, and was followed by Samuel Shilton, whom gave up the revolver and 14 cartridges. On the way, Place said to Shilton, ” If you hadn’t come after me I would been comfortable at the bottom of the canal.”

executionThe rest of this grim tale almost tells itself. George Place, apparently unrepentant throughout, was taken through the usual procedure of Coroner’s inquest, Magistrates’ court, and then sent to the Autumn Assizes at Warwick in December. Presiding over the court was Richard Webster, 1st Viscount Alverstone, and the trial was brief. Despite the obligatory plea from Place’s defence team that he was insane when he pulled the trigger three times in that Baddesely Ensor cottage, the jury were having none of it, and the judge donned the black cap, sentencing George Place to death by hanging. The trial was at the beginning of December, the date fixed for the execution was fixed for 13th December, but George Place did not meet his maker until 30th December. It is idle to speculate about quite what kind of Christmas Place spent in his condemned cell, but for some reason, during his incarceration, he had converted to Roman Catholicism. It seems he left this world with more dignity than he had allowed his three victims. The executioner was Henry Pierrepoint.

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THE WARWICKSHIRE TRIPLE MURDER . . . Violent death visits Baddesley Ensor (1)

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Asked to name  counties associated with England’s coal mining heritage, many people would say, “Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.” The more knowledgeable might add Lancashire and, perhaps, Kent, but few would be aware that until relatively recently there was an important mining industry in North Warwickshire. One of the most significant centres was the village of Baddesley Ensor (below), near Atherstone. Mentioned as ‘Bedeslei’ in the Domesday Book, the village has a long and fascinating history, but the events of a day in late August 1902 are the focus here.

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The 1901 census tells us that the Chetwynd family, comprising John (56), wife Eliza (60), Joseph (22) and Eliza (19) lived at 177 Watling Street Road, in what was known as Black Swan Yard. Not far away, on the same road, a young man called George Place, described as a coal hewer, lodged with William Aston and his wife Martha. At some point later that year George Place and the younger Eliza became, as they say, “an item” – to the extent that Eliza became pregnant. On 14th August 1902, Eliza gave birth to a baby boy. Much had happened prior to this. On 19th March John Chetwynd died leaving the two Elizas and the his as-yet-unborn grandson to manage on the income of young Eliza’s brother Joseph Chetwynd who, inevitably, was another coal miner. It seems that George Place had moved in with the family, and had become informally engaged to Eliza, but his contribution to the the family finances must have been minimal, as Eliza had served him with what was known as an Affiliation Summons – a kind of paternity order, what we know as a Child Support maintenance enforcement.

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George Place was not a Warwickshire man. He was born in 1874 in Radford, an outer suburb of Nottingham. His was a large family, even by the standards of the day. He was the elder of nine children. In 1891, at the age of 17, he was listed as living at 72 Saville Street, Radford, working as a cotton spinner. Whether he became a miner by choice or through necessity, we will never know, but fate brought him further south into the Warwickshire coalfield.

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Observer

Having researched and written about many of these historical murder cases, the question of evil versus insanity comes up every time. The central question is simple: Would someone committing a murder in plain sight have to be unhinged to think they could get away with it? Another question: Can insanity be temporary, so that when a murderer is apprehended, he/she may seem perfectly sane? These days, of course, the distinction is largely irrelevant, as no murderer will lose their life as a result of a guilty verdict; the only variable is the kind of institution in which they will serve their sentence. What follows in this story will explain why I have raised the philosophical question.

As is often the case, there is a back story here, and the Nuneaton Observer (left) made much of the troubled relationship between George Place and the Chetwynd family.

Quite why George Place felt so aggrieved at being asked to contribute to the upbringing of the little boy he had fathered we shall never know. When the summons making him responsible for his eleven day old son was served on Place, he threatened that all the Chetwynds would get out of him would be a bullet. This sounds like empty rhetoric, uttered for dramatic effect, but what followed was truly horrific

IN PART TWO

Three bullets. Three lives
A date with the hangman

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN . . . A Warwickshire murder (part three)

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THE STORY SO FAR … Fanny Dodd and Joseph Hewitt, two “star-crossed lovers” if ever there were, had a brief relationship in the summer of 1886. The result? A baby girl named Daisy Hewitt Dodd. In April 1887, the body of a baby is found beside a stream. Arrests are made.

MachinThen, as now, criminal cases are first presented at Magistrates’ Courts. On Wednesday 11th May 1887, Charlotte Dodd and her daughter Fanny  appeared at Kenilworth Magistrates’ Court, charged with the wilful murder of Daisy Hewitt Dodd.  The presiding magistrate was Colonel John Machen (left), a distinguished local figure and a surgeon by profession.. His military rank was an honorary one, awarded for his prominent role in raising the 10th (Leamington) Warwickshire Rifle Corps in 1860, becoming its first Captain.

The hearing was a brief one because, for some reason, the court demanded a formal identification of the victim. Consequently, the court was adjourned and a submission sent to The Home Office requesting that the recently interred body of baby Dodd be exhumed. The request was granted, and the poor child had one last, pointless indignity inflicted on her. The next day, the coffin was brought from the ground and opened in the presence of PC Standley and the church sexton. The newspaper report makes for grim reading:

Exhumation

On 18th May, the adjourned hearing reopened, and a bizarre tale unfolded. On the morning of 26th April, Charlotte and Fanny Dodd, carrying baby Daisy, had set out from their Moreton Morrell home to walk to Warwick. They were accompanied for part of the way by an elderly neighbour, a Mrs Wincote. She was told that Fanny was taking the baby to Stoneleigh, where it would be looked after by its paternal grandmother, Mrs Hewitt. The party arrived in Warwick and went to sit in The Castle Arms, where they ate bread and cheese, and drank beer. Not long after they arrived, Fanny Dodds left with the baby, presumably heading for Stoneleigh, some five miles away.

The landlady of The Castle Arms, Elizabeth Hannah Butler, testified that Fanny Dodds returned later on that afternoon, holding a bundle of baby clothes, stating that the grandmother didn’t need them, as she had plenty of her own.

Justice_Wills_Vanity_Fair_25_June_1896The magistrates’ hearing, despite its length, was a formality. Colonel Machen decided that there was a case to answer, and the cavalcade moved on – to the Warwick Assizes to be held at the beginning of August. The presiding judge was Sir Alfred Wills, (right) a Birmingham man whose career defining moment was yet to come,as he would be the judge in the third trial of Oscar Wilde and when the writer was found guilty of gross indecency, Wills sentenced him to two years hard labour.

As was customary in those days, the names of the jurors were published in the press, and it is worth noting that among their number was Colonel Machen, who had been the magistrate when Charlotte and Fanny were first brought to court. The press report began in this fashion:
Prisoners pleaded not guilty. Mr Soden with Mr Keep conducted the prosecution, and the prisoners were defended by Mr Hugo Young, with whom was Mr Cartland. The Court was crowded and much interest was excited by the case. The younger prisoner, whose appearance is somewhat prepossessing, apparently felt her position keenly. Mr Soden, for the Crown, having given an outline the facts of the case, adduced the following evidence :”

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The evidence was provided by the old lady who had walked into Warwick with Charlotte and Fanny on that fateful morning, the landlady of The Castle Arms, Joseph Hewitt and his father and, of course the police. The principle argument by the defence counsel was that Fanny, pausing at Wootton Court Bridge, had accidentally killed the baby by dropping it and had then panicked. Mr Young stated:

If that occurred  – and he submitted it was a most probable inference – it was only natural that the girl, with no one to advise her what do, should take means to hide the body, in order that she should not be charged with having intentionally killed the child. In the fear which was then upon her, it was a likely thing that she would take off its clothes so as not to leave any traces of identity. If it was her intention to have killed the child, he submitted that it would be improbable that she would go to Warwick, where she would be seen by many people, or that she would go far in the direction of Stoneleigh.

It was far more probable that she would have disposed of the body in another direction, without running the great risk of going to Warwick. After the occurrence he had described, the girl, upon getting home, told her mother all the had happened, and it was quite natural that the mother, in her endeavour to shield her daughter, would support her story.”

Another bizarre possibility was raised, and it was that Daisy had been killed in Moreton Morrell, and then carried into Warwick and on towards Leek Wootton. This was inferred from the fact that neither the old lady who accompanied them nor the pub landlady never once heard the baby cry or witnessed it being fed. The judge, in a lengthy summing up hinted that there was no evidence that Charlotte Dodd had done anything except cover up for Fanny which, as a mother, would be perfectly understandable. The Leamington Spa Courier reported the dramatic conclusion to the trial:

“The jury then retired their room, and were absent about half an hour. Upon their return into Court, and in answer to the usual question put the Clerk of Arraigns, the foreman said they found the younger prisoner, Fanny Goldby guilty, but strongly recommended her to mercy. They found the elder prisoner Dodd not guilty. The prisoner Goldby then stood with the assistance of the gaolers, and the Clerk of Arraigns (Mr Coleridge), who exhibited much emotion, put the formal question as whether she had anything to say as to why she should not die, according law.

The prisoner upon hearing this screamed in the most agonizing manner, and threw herself upon the floor the dock. She was held upon her feet by the gaolers and surgeon (Dr. Browne), and the Judge, having assumed the black cap, said: “Fanny Goldby, you have been found guilty of the crime of wilful murder. The jury recommended you to the mercy of the Crown, and that recommendation shall be conveyed to the Secretary of State, but I am bound say there is little except your youth to justify that recommendation, for it was a cruel murder of an unoffending child. There is but one sentence for this crime, and it is that you taken hence to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, and there hanged by the neck till you are dead and your body buried within the precincts of the gaol. May the Lord have mercy your soul.” The prisoner uttered several loud screams during the sentence, and was removed from the dock in a fainting condition.”

An application for clemency was sent to the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, and Fanny was spared the death sentence, but was sentenced to penal servitude for life.

AFTERMATH

The sorry affair raises several questions that remain unanswered. Firstly, why was Fanny calling herself Goldby? She may have assumed the name when she fled to Birmingham, but one would have thought that the authorities would have insisted she revert to her maiden name during the legal process. Secondly, if Daisy was killed intentionally, what was Fanny’s motive? She had every reason to believe that Joseph Hewitt would continue his support for his daughter, and up until the fateful day there was every sign that the baby was loved and looked after – Fanny had even taken Daisy to the vaccination clinic. Thirdly, where did the baby die? It seems improbable that the two women would have carried a corpse all the way to Warwick and beyond, but for a normal baby to be silent for the duration of the six mile walk, and then still show no signs of life while the women had lunch in the pub is, at the very least, strange.

As to what became of the people in this story, we know that in 1891, Fanny was in the female prison at Knaphill near Woking, After that, apart from one mention, she goes off the radar. The Dodd family were still in Moreton Morrell

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in 1901, but not in 1911. In 1901, the Hewitts still kept the shop in Stoneleigh, but Joseph had left home, destination unknown.

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SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN . . . A Warwickshire murder (part two)

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THE STORY SO FAR . . . It is the spring of 1887, a young woman from the Warwickshire village of Moreton Morrell, Fanny Dodd, has given birth to a baby girl. The child, registered as Daisy Hewitt Dodd is, in the parlance of the day, illegitimate. The father, Joseph Hewitt, a baker from Stoneleigh has accepted that the child is his, and has sent money by post to Fanny to help with the child’s upkeep.

On the morning of 26th April a man named Thomas Hoare, of Chesham Place, Leamington Spa was on the road between Warwick and the village of Leek Wootton. He was described in the press as a hawker – someone who sells items from place to place. By the very nature of the job, the goods have to be carried, and Hoare paused to rest, perching on the parapet of a little bridge, under which ran a small stream. He often used the spot to rest his legs on his journey from Warwick to Kenilworth, but out of the corner of his eye he noticed something unusual. Lying at the edge of the stream was what appeared to be a small bundle. When he took a closer look, Hoare was shaken to the core when he realised that it was the body of a baby.

Hoare alerted two other men who were on the road, and they went to find a policeman. First on the scene was a PC Fletcher, and he later stated that the dead infant wore only a nappy and a little shirt and, incongruously, was wrapped in brown paper. Two days later a Kenilworth surgeon, Mr Clarke conducted a post mortem examination. An inquest was held the next day at The Anchor inn in Leek Wootton. He found:

“…the child to be about five or six weeks old. It was not a particularly small one. He examined the body externally, and found that the child had thick dark hair. was well nourished. Upon feeling over the head, he discovered the symptoms of a fracture of the skull, and there was discolouration around the right eye, and opaqueness of the pupil. The discolouration was something like a bruise. There was no evidence to show that the child had been drowned. He took off the skull, and found extraverted blood. The fracture was about four inches in length and two in breadth. It involved two bones – the parietal and temple bones, and extended from the right eye. He removed the bones at the seat of the fracture, and found effusion of blood on the brain.

The fracture was sufficient to cause death. He was of opinion the fracture was caused during life, because there was the effusion of blood. At that time he formed an opinion that the child had been dead only a few hours, as it presented such very fresh appearance. It was quite possible for child to been there four or five days during that cold weather without decomposing. Judging by the appearance of the child, and the cold weather, he was now of opinion that it might have been dead four or five days.”

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The child – its short life ended – was  buried in the churchyard at Kenilworth, but for the police this was just the beginning. There was only one clue as to the possible identity of the child. On the brown paper were written the words “Dodd, passenger to Milverton Station”. Contemporary archives shed little light on the police investigation, or how they made the connection to the Dodd family in Moreton Morrell, but we know that on 5th May Sergeant Alcott and PC Standley visited the cottage. They found Charlotte Dodd, aged 47, and asked her if she had a daughter with a baby. Mrs Dodd answered in the affirmative, but said that her daughter had moved away, taking the child with her.Mrs Dodd was arrested and taken into custody.

The police searched the cottage and found brown paper identical to that which had been used as a makeshift shroud for the dead baby. Crucially, they also found a letter, which the newspapers later printed:

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Sergeant Alcott In company with Detective Baker, went to 144, Monument Road. Birmingham, and found Fanny Dodd, now calling herself Goldby. They went outside together, and Alcott asked her if her name was Fanny Goldby, and if she had been living at Moreton Morrell, and she replied
“Yes.”
He also asked her she if had had a child about six weeks ago and she replied,
“About two months ago, sir.”
He asked her where the child was, and she replied,
“Morton Morrell.”
He then told her he should charge her with the murder of the child on or about the 20th April, and she made no reply. He then took her into custody, and brought her Kenilworth. After the remand at Milverton, he took the prisoner her to Warwick Gaol in a cab. She said,
“How long have I got to stay here, sir?”
Alcott told her that she would stay in gaol until the magistrates’ hearing the coming Wednesday. She then said,
“Do you think they will hang me? “
He replied,
“I can’t say.” 

IN PART THREE

An exhumation
The law takes its course
Unanswered questions

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN . . . A Warwickshire murder (part one)

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In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described the Warwickshire village of Moreton Morrell like this:

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The 1881 census records that living in a cottage on Morrell Farm in the village were the Dodd family.

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Just six years later, Charlotte Dodd and her daughter Fanny were to be the central figures in a murder case which shocked the country. Fanny Dodd was evidently something of a beauty. In the court case which decided her fate she was described thus:

“The younger prisoner, whose appearance is somewhat prepossessing….”

By 1886, Fanny had taken a very common career route for young women from poor backgrounds – she went into service. Wealthy families had servants, and the Trueloves of Stoneleigh – a village between Leamington and Coventry – were no exception, and Fanny was their domestic servant. Stoneleigh is the site of a Cistercian abbey, but it suffered the fate of so many similar institutions at the hands of Henry VIII. The Leigh family had acquired the site in 1558, and in the eighteenth century, a grand house was built on the site, and Benjamin Truelove was a tenant farmer of the current Lord Leigh.

Stoneleigh had a Co-operative Stores, and it was managed by William Hewitt. His son, Joseph, had learned the bakers’ art, and had a comfortable life in the family home. At some point in 1886 the 18 year-old lad had come into contact with Fanny Dodd, a couple of years older than he, and something of a beauty. Evidence given at Fanny’s trial suggests that on Whit Sunday  – 13th June – the pair had gone for a walk together, and somewhere near Pipe’s Mill – a water mill on the River Sowe – one thing had let to another, and the couple had, well, coupled (please feel free to substitute your favourite euphemism).

Getting pregnant was certainly not in the job description of domestic servants in Victorian times, so at some point later in 1886 Fanny returned to Morton Morrell. On 8th March, 1887, Fanny gave birth to a healthy girl. The child was duly registered, and her name was Daisy Hewitt Dodd.

At this point there was no evidence to show that Fanny Dodd had any feelings other than love for her daughter. Indeed, records showed that she had taken Daisy to nearby Wellesbourne to be vaccinated – probably against snallpox.

On 15th March, Fanny sent a letter to the young man she believed to be the father of her child.

Morton Morrell, 15th March.

Dear Joe
l dare say you will surprised hear that I was confined last Tuesday—a little girl. Of course it has come from last Whitsunday, when of course you know what took place by Pipe’s Mill. It comes exactly from that time. At least I know it belongs you, because there has not been any transaction between me and any man since I went with you then. Dear Joe, I hope you will come to some arrangement. Once, when you asked me, I said not, but I did not know for certain then, but I knew before I left Trueloves for I had gone half my time nearly when I left her. I hope you will either have me or come to some pairing arrangement without going to any further trouble. I ought to have written to you before now, but I kept it from everyone, not even my mother knew I was in the family way until the child was born on Tuesday. I am very weak and can scarcely scribble this letter. I ought to have written to you before. I very sorry it ever occurred. I think the child will own you anywhere. It is a strong healthy looking baby, and likely to live. I think have told you all at present. Believe me, yours sincerely Lizzie, or, as they call me, Miss Dodd.

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Joseph Hewitt was evidently not prepared to settle down to married life. A couple of days later, he replied. The substance of what he wrote was never recorded, but one can guess what he wrote, judging by Fanny’s reply:

Mr J. Hewitt – I am writing to thank you for the money that you sent me, which I received quite safe last Tuesday morning, but I was quite surprised at the abusing letter you sent me: and as to saying the child belongs to Charley, that quite untrue, for I am quite sure it belongs to you, and if you do not continue to pay the money I shall swear it on you, because I have things against you to show plain proof. You know you bought me gin and came to meet me with it, but I didn’t take it. and then you sent me that 10s. That has done it at once if I was to swear you. I shall be sure to get pay, for Lord Leigh only asks the girl a few questions and if I tell him you cannot get over it, and it will be nothing but the truth. The time will tell anyone; it comes from Whit-Sunday, at least. I never had any dealings with anybody else, and if old Joe says he can prove it, I should like him to do so. And as for my carrying on here with chaps, I have only spoken to one since I left Stoneleigh. I can get that proved by the people at Moreton Morrell, and can get it proved that those people that told you are very great liars. If they were to look at home and themselves, they have no room to talk about me, and as for you calling me a prostitute, I think you had better mind, or I shall come over and see you and some one else too. I shall expect to hear from you again on the eighth of next month, or I shall swear it was you. The child belongs to you. I should never have said it was yours if you did not get me into trouble, and now you must help me to get out it. People were great liars to say we knocked French’s wheat down, and if we had, the child did not come from that, but we did not. F. Dodd.

Several truths emerge from this exchange. Firstly, Fanny and Joe had enjoyed a brief but tumultuous sexual relationship. Secondly, Fanny had what we might call something of a reputation – she was clearly a very attractive and passionate young woman. Thirdly, Joe Hewitt had been swept off his feet but, while being prepared to send money for the upkeep of his daughter, saw no future in a long term relationship with Fanny Dodd.

IN PART TWO

A gruesome discovery…
A brown paper clue
A trip to Birmingham


TRUE CRIME . . . A Warwickshire tragedy

Drive east on the A425 out of Royal Leamington Spa and you will soon come to the village of Radford Semele. The Semele is nothing to do with the princess in Greek mythology or Handel’s opera of the same name, but apparently relates to a Norman family from Saint Pierre-de-Semilly who were lords of the manor in the twelfth century. These days it is a rather prosperous village, much expanded from 1947, when it housed a mixture of the well-off and the rural poor, with nothing much in between.

Number 23 Radford Semele housed the Ashby family. Frederick, aged 48, his wife Marie, 51, son Frederick Philip, 27 and a younger daughter. Frederick junior was in the RAF. In 1947 people didn’t tend to move about as much as they do these days, and the 1911 census tells us that Frederick lived with his grandparents in Radford, while wife Marie had been born in Napton, a few miles down the road. They had married in 1921.

The late winter had been particularly savage, and after a brief heatwave in June, the July weather was cloudy and humid. Those with a radio or a gramophone could have been listening to Frank Sinatra sing Among My Souvenirs, which topped the charts for three weeks. Fred Ashby junior had been a pupil at Clapham Terrace School in Leamington and, being something of an athlete, was a member of the celebrated Coventry Club, Godiva Harriers. After a spell as a draughtsman at the Lockheed works in nearby Leamington, he had joined the RAF. He had come home from nearby Church Lawford on weekend leave, and on the morning of Sunday 27th July, had set off across the fields with a friend, Cyril Bye, to try and shoot a few rabbits for the pot.

It seems that the relationship between Fred Ashby (left) and his father was anything but harmonious. Fred senior, who was a foreman at the Coventry Radiator factory in the village, was often involved in loud arguments when his son was home on leave. At around 4.00pm that Sunday afternoon, a Radford teenager called Rose Marie Summers was standing talking to a friend outside a nearby house, when she saw Fred senior staggering out of the Ashby’s house, clutching his side, in obvious pain. He cried out, “He has kicked me.”

The girl saw Ashby walk round to the rear of the house and return with a shotgun in his hands. He pointed it through the open window of the cottage and fired.

Witnesses who entered the house shortly afterwards never forgot the horrific scene, Young Fred Ashby was kneeling on the floor, his head face down on the sofa. In his back was a gaping wound, pumping blood. The police and ambulance were quickly summoned, and the young man was rushed to the Warneford Hospital, just little over a mile away in Leamington. There was nothing doctors could do to save his life, however, and he died later that evening with his mother at his bedside.

There was never a more cut and dried case for Warwickshire Police. Even as the local bobby, PC Haines, arrived at the scene, Fred Ashby was beside the body of his dying son, trying desperately to staunch the fatal wound, saying, “I did it. I shot him.”

As the case progressed up the ladder of the criminal justice system, from local magistrates’ court to Birmingham Assizes, it became clear that the evidently mild-mannered Fred Ashby was, for whatever reason, regularly bullied by his physically powerful son and, having been knocked about and abused during the afternoon of 27th July, had finally snapped and,in a red mist, fired the shot that ended his son’s life. His plea of manslaughter was accepted, and he was sentenced to ten years penal servitude.

Whatever grief he bore for the killing of his son, Frederick Ashby survived his prison sentence and died in 1984. His wife Marie pre-deceased him by nine years. The senior policeman in the case, Chief Superintendent Alec Spooner of Warwickshire CID, is celebrated by True Crime enthusiasts as the man who led the case investigating the as-yet-unsolved ‘witchcraft murder’ of Charles Walton, at Lower Quinton in 1945, but that is a story for another day.







DEATH COMES TO BINSWOOD END . . . a dark deed in 1920s Harbury (2)

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SO FAR –  Harbury, 1922. Rugby ne’er-do-well William Rider bigamously married Rosilla Patience Borton in 1918. As well as mistreating her, he has become  involved with her (under-age) sister Harriet. Rosilla has left the house in Pennngton Street, Rugby, to seek protection with her mother in the house at Binswood End, Harbury.

Rachel Freeman, Rosilla’s mother, hearing rumours that William Rider has been the seen the previous evening in the area, on the morning of Thursday 7th September had tried to make the house secure fearing that he was a threat. At the coroner’s inquest into the death of Rosilla, Mrs Freeman was questioned about her fears:

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The next witness called was Harriet, who had been an apparently willing victim of Rider’s womanising. Despite the fact that she knew Rider had just murdered her sister in cold blood, she was what the papers called ‘a recalcitrant witness.’

Harriet

Rider claimed that he had taken the gun only to scare Rosilla into returning to him, and that it had gone off accidentally when she grabbed it in self defence. Rosella had been shot dead with a cartridge from a 16 bore gun. The medical examiner estimated that there were over one hundred pellets from the cartridge embedded in her skull. Neither the coroners inquest nor the magistrates’ court considered Rider’s version of events credible, and he was sent to face trial at Warwick Assizes in November. Meanwhile local papers covered the mournful event of Rosilla’s funeral.

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Rider’s trial began on Friday 17th November 1922. Mr. O’Sullivan and Mr. Bartholomew appeared for the prosecution, and Rider, who pleaded not guilty in a firm voice, was defended by Mr. Harold Eadon. In his opening address Mr. O’Sullivan, after outlining the facts of the case, submitted it was clear case of deliberate and premeditated murder. When Rider finally came to the witness box his story was that he had spent the night in the lavatory of the house, and had the gun so he could go out in the morning to shoot rabbits. He said that he went upstairs to see Rose, and she made a gesture from the bed which he interpreted as her wanting him to kiss her. As he stooped down to do so, Mrs Freeman ‘mistaking his kind gesture as a threat’ sprang from her bed and tried to grab the gun, at which point it went off, killing Rosilla instantly.

As preposterous stories go, Rider’s was up there with the best, and the jury took little time in pronouncing him guilty, at which point the judge donned the black cap.

Presiding over Warwick Assizes that November was Montague Lush ( above left) Wikipedia says of him:

“He retired from the bench in 1925 due to deafness, and was made a Privy Counsellor the same year, although he never sat on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Although highly regarded as a barrister, he was not a successful judge: he was said to be too diffident and sometimes let personal feelings influence his decisions.”

William Rider’s legal team may have sensed that Mr Justice Lush’s mediocre reputation  gave them a chance of overturning the death sentence. It was not to be. The appeal was made before The Lord Chief Justice, Gordon Hewart but, like the relatively lowly Southam coroner and magistrates before him, he believed that William Rider was, by the standards of the time, unfit to walk among his fellow men. Regional newspapers across Britain carried this simple story on Tuesday 19th December 1922:

Penalty

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Warwickshire

THE KING STREET SHOOTING . . . A Leamington murder in 1921 (2)

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SO FAR: It is late afternoon on Thursday 19th March, 1921. Motor mechanic Frederick Pugh (47) has spent most of the day drinking in various Leamington pubs, and he has returned to the house he shares with his wife, Constance Ethel Pugh, at 50 King Street. Rows between the two are frequent and always noisy. The next door neighbour has come to remonstrate with Pugh, who is now outside the house. Pugh complains that his wife is always nagging him and goes back indoors.

The neighbour, Thomas Mills, returns to his own house, but then hears two loud bangs. He goes to look through the window of number 50, and seeing Mrs Pugh lying on the floor, runs into the town until he finds a policeman, Police Sergeant Pearson, who was on duty where Regent Street crosses The Parade.

Pearson was later to give this evidence:

“I was on duty on the Parade at the Regent Street crossing when Mills called me. Upon arriving at 50, King Street, I knocked at the back door, but received no reply. Looking through the kitchen window I saw a revolver lying in front the fire. I knocked again, but there was still response, so I decided to break in. Upon  opening the door, Pugh put his face round the door and looked at me. His face was badly injured and covered with blood, and he was staggering about. I took hold of him and said ” What’s the matter? “

I assisted the man to the kitchen and laid him on the floor, having first taken charge of the revolver. Two chambers had been fired, and one had missed fire. One of the spent cartridges had been struck twice. When I loosened Pugh’s collar, the man said ” Let me get up,’’

After calling a doctor, I examined the house. The woman was lying on her back with her head under the sink, and she was quite dead, with blood-marks on the right side of the face. The appearances were that the shots had been fired at close range. The condition of the room did not suggest a struggle. The woman had been washing, and the utensils were in their correct position. By this time Pugh had become unconscious and upon following up my examination I found bloodmarks on the stairs and on the pillow on the bed.”

Constance Pugh was beyond mortal help, and her body was removed to the mortuary, but Frederick Pugh was rushed to the Warneford Hospital.

On the following Tuesday the inquest into Constance Pugh’s death was opened, and the sad state of the Pughs’ marriage was laid bare. This report is from The Leamington Courier:

“The first witness called was Mrs. J. H. Cooke, sister of Mrs. Pugh, who said that deceased was Pugh’s second wife. Pugh served during the war.
The Coroner: ‘Did you know the conditions under which they lived?’
Witness: ‘They were’nt very happy’
‘Did your sister’s husband ill-treat her and keep the children short of food?’
‘Yes, he had an abnormal temper.’
Witness proceeded to say that one day last week she had a conversation with her sister relative to Pugh and deceased then said that her husband had threatened to “do her and the children in.”
He had said this many times that they did not take him seriously.
The Coroner: ‘On this particular occasion had he used the expression because she had asked for food for the house?
‘Yes.’
Mrs. Cooke said that one of the sons lived at Luton, Pugh’s native town, and a daughter was in a home in London.
Foreman (Mr. R. E. Moore); ‘Was Pugh usually sober when he made these threats?’
Witness: ‘I was not there whenhe  used them, but my sister said he had taken to drink again.’
‘You didn’t know much about the man himself?’ asked the Coroner.
“I simply hated him!” exclaimed the witness in reply.
The Foreman : Did you know that Pugh kept firearms in the house?
‘No, I shouldn’t have gone there had I known that he did.’
Mrs. Ada Key, another witness, living at 19 Plymouth Place, said the deceased had often complained of her husband’s treatment of her. and alleged that he kept the children short of food. He had a very bad temper. ‘My sister to come down to my house to get something to eat,’ continued the witness, ‘for she couldn’t get enough for the children at home.”
The Coroner: ‘You knew by her actions that she was not being supported properly at home?’
Witness: ‘Yes.’
‘Did she ever complain her husband drinking?’ asked the Coroner.
At this point the witness broke down, and the Coroner did not press his questions. “

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Mr. E. F. Hadow (Coroner for Mid-Warwickshire) did eventually reconvene the inquest, but his optimism that Frederick Pugh would be able to attend to account for his crime was unfounded. Pugh eventually died, still in hospital, on Friday 2oth May. There only remained the technicality of deciding if Pugh was in his right mind when he shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself.

Last word

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PughAs with many of these stories, there are always the children who become victims of adult misdeeds. The Pughs had two children. In the census which was held in the summer of 1921, an Arthur Frederick Pugh, born in 1920 and listed as grandson, was living in Leamington in a house, the head of which was Edith Jones, born in Bishops Itchington, and almost certainly Constance Pugh’s mother. Sadly, the next time we hear of Arthur Frederick Pugh it is as a casualty in WWII. His body lies in Madras War Cemetery. Arthur was a cook in the Army Catering Corps. He was working at a military hospital in Burma. While walking around the hospital grounds he was shot by a sniper in a tree and killed on 28th April 1945 just two weeks before the end of the war in Europe. Peter Colledge reminded me that the war in the Far East was to continue until August, days after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Thanks to Julie Pollard (a relative) for this information.

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The older child, Tessa Vernie Yvonne Pugh (thanks again to Julie Pollard) was born in 1913. She was brought up by Constance’s brother Leonard. Records show that she married a man called Felix Jackson at Stratford in 1939. The 1939 register shows them living at 128 Tavern Lane Stratford.  She died in 1973, her husband having passed away two years earlier.

Was Frederick Pugh driven to commit murder by some awful residual damage he had incurred during the Great War? One newspaper report suggests that he had come home “with a piece of bullet lodged in his head.” He would not have been the only man damaged by the horrors of 1914 – 18, but we shall never know. The only certainty is that a fatal combination of anger and drink – and possibly war trauma – cost two people their lives on that March afternoon.

THE KING STREET SHOOTING . . . A Leamington murder in 1921 (1)

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Thursday 19th March 1921. Leamington Spa. On this chilly spring day, those who read the newspapers could follow the ongoing unrest in Ireland while, even further away, the conflict between the ‘Red’ and ‘White’ armies in Russia was generating even more bloodshed. Much closer to home, in King Street, neighbours of Mr and Mrs Pugh at No. 50, were to have their own share of gunfire and bloodshed.

Constance Pugh (née Jones, a woman from Bishops Itchington) had married Frederick Pugh in 1910. The 1911 census has them living in Moss Street, a little cul-de-sac off Althorpe Sreet. There is little there today that they would have known except the railway arches on its south side. According to newspaper reports that Pugh (who in the 1911 census had given his age as 31. and his place of birth as Cardiff) had ‘done his bit’ in The Great War, serving as a sergeant with the Leicestershire Regiment, but had been invalided out with injuries caused by a a gas attack. In 1921, they were living in King Street, at No. 50. They had two young children, and Pugh had recently started a car mechanics business.

The Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph of 15th March 1921 tells us that Frederick Pugh was the son of Mr and Mrs William Pugh of Luton. They had a large family scattered across the Luton area, but Frederick had left “about fifteen years ago.” He had left his first wife “who was a Perry” and two children and moved to Leamington, but volunteered for the army in 1914. His first wife died in Bute Hospital, Luton, below, of “a serious illness” in 1915. The Pughs had two children. In 1921 the boy was working at a cinema in Luton, while the girl was living with an aunt in London.

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Back in Leamington, it is clear that Pugh’s marriage to Constance was in poor shape. They argued and fought so noisily that neighbours were often minded to intervene, if only to bring about a few moments of peace and quiet. King Street, back in the day was rather different from what it is today. Here is a ‘then and now’ video showing how it has changed. The ‘then’ image (courtesy of Our Warwickshire) comes from before The Great War but, apart from the clothes of the people in the picture, little would have changed by 1921.

Despite – or perhaps because of – having his own business to run, Frederick Pugh could go for a daytime drink whenever he felt like it. That Thursday he had been to The Warwick Arms in Regent Street before lunch, and then moved on to The Greyhound in Lansdowne Street. From there he went to the Ex-Servicemen’s Club in Beachamp Square, where he had another couple of pints. His final port of call was The Fox and Vivian, after which he walked the few hundred yards home to King Street. His two young children were apparently playing in the street outside the house. He arrived home just after 2.00pm. This evidence was later given by Mr Thomas, a provision dealer, who lived next to the Pughs at No. 52. The report is from the Leamington Courier.

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 IN PART TWO:
A TERRIBLE DISCOVERY
& THE GRIM REAPER HAS THE LAST WORD

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