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THE BUTCHER OF PRIORS HARDWICK . . . Murder at London End Cottage (2)

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SO FAR: November 1872. Edward Handcock, 58,  a jobbing slaughterman and butcher, lives with his third wife, Betsy, and their children, in a tiny cottage on London End, Priors Hardwick. He is prone to bouts of drunkenness, and is a profoundly jealous man. He is convinced that Betsy, ten years his junior is, to use his own words, “whoring”. On the evening of 13th November, things come to a head. A subsequent newspaper report tells the grim tale.

Report

Edward Handcock was immediately arrested. Betsy Handcock was buried a few days later in the village churchyard.

Laid to rest

The procedure with suspected murder cases was relatively straightforward in concept, but could be lengthy. First came the coroner’s inquest, before a jury, to establish cause of death and a recommendation for the next stage which, if a suspect was believed guilty, was the local magistrate court. Finally, the suspect would be sent for trial at the county assize court, before a senior judge. The inquest on Betsy Handcock was held on 15th November at the village pub, The Butchers Arms – an appropriate venue in a macabre way. The medical evidence makes for grim reading:

Mr. Bragge, surgeon, of Priors Marston, said he saw the deceased woman just before eight o’clock, and found her in a comatose condition, but still partly sensible. He asked her what was the matter, and she pointed to her thigh. Examining the wound he found there was bleeding, and at once ordered her into a warm bed, and administered stimulants. She died in a few minutes after she was placed in the bed. He had made a post-mortem examination, and found the femoral artery in the left thigh bad been severed by a clean-cut wound. The wound was deep, and such as might have been caused by the knife produced. There was also a small punctured wound under the left armpit, and two small cuts on the left arm. The wounds could not have been inflicted by the deceased. Mr. Rice, surgeon, of Southam, gave corroborative evidence. He said the cut the in thigh severed the femoral artery and the vessels.

George Shuckburgh

The worst part of these various hearings was that the two principal witnesses to the murder were the children, Walter and Eliza.  It was necessary for them to relive the ordeal three times over; first at the inquest, then in front of the Southam magistrates on 18th November, and then a third and final time in the much more intimidating surroundings of Warwick Assizes. The magistrates court was presided over by Major George Shuckburgh (left). Walter testified:

“My father’s name is Edward Handcock. I returned home from my work at Mr. Mumford’s (Prior’s Marston) Wednesday last about half-past five in the evening. I had my tea by myself as soon I got home. Before I began my tea mother said she would go and fetch a policeman, and she left the house. I did not hear what passed between my father and mother  before she went out. My father remained in the house after mother went away, and was in an adjoining room from where I was. After my mother left the house I heard my father sharpen his knife. I did not see him. but l am quite sure did so. My mother was gone about five-and-twenty minutes. She did not bring a policeman with her. I had finished my tea when she came back. Before my mother came back, my father went upstairs. I did not observe him take anything with him. I remained downstairs. When my mother came back, my father threw the casement of the window down into the court. I did not see him do it, but I heard the wood fall. My mother undressed the children when she came home. The children’s names are Eliza, Peter, and Minnie. After they were undressed, she took them upstairs, and said she expected there would be a “pillilu” when she took them up. I heard my mother say “Walter, Walter, he’s cutting me.” and I ran out of the house to tell the next door neighbour, Edward Prestidge.”

Edward Handcock was duly sent for trial at the December Assizes, in front of Sir George Bramwell Knight, and he was found guilty and sentenced to death on 18th December. What kind of Christmas he had doesn’t bear thinking about, but on Tuesday 7th January 1873, he was led to the scaffold inside Warwick Gaol. The executioner was George Smith, known as “Throttler Smith”. What was known as ‘the long drop’, where the condemned person died almost instantaneously, was some way off, and Handcock’s death was certainly not swift.

Execution

Criminal record

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THE BUTCHER OF PRIORS HARDWICK . . . Murder at London End Cottage (1)

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The 1871 census tells us that Edward Handcock and his family lived in London End Cottage, Priors Hardwick and, judging by his neighbours the Sharps, whose cottage was described as ‘near the Vicarage’, London End Cottage was in the same area. Handcock was 48, and was his wife Betsy 38. The children in the house were Walter Edward (11), Harry Mold (6), Eliza (5), Charles (3) and Minnie (2). We know for certain that Walter was not Betsy’s son, as he was the product of one of Edward’s earlier marriages.

1871 census

Edward Handcock’s marriages were, to say the least, interesting. We know that he married Betsy Mold in September 1865, so it is safe to say that Harry and the younger children were blood siblings. An earlier marriage, in 1851, was to Ann Hodgekins or Hodgkins. She died in 1862, and a newspaper report subsequent to the events of this story suggested that Handcock’s first wife was Betsy’s sister Ann, but following that trail takes us away from the narrative to no good purpose.

Edward Handcock was a butcher, but he worked for himself, more than likely dealing with the pigs that were the staple of many cottagers at the time. There is no better description of the trade than in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure but, unfortunately, Challow the pig-man doesn’t turn up, so Jude and his wife Arabella have to do the job themselves.

“Upon my soul I would sooner have gone without the pig than have had this to do!” said Jude. “A creature I have fed with my own hands.”
“Don’t be such a tender-hearted fool! There’s the sticking-knife — the one with the point. Now whatever you do, don’t stick un too deep.”
“I’ll stick him effectually, so as to make short work of it. That’s the chief thing.”
“You must not!” she cried. “The meat must be well bled, and to do that he must die slow. We shall lose a shilling a score if the meat is red and bloody! Just touch the vein, that’s all. I was brought up to it, and I know. Every good butcher keeps un bleeding long. He ought to be eight or ten minutes dying, at least.”
“He shall not be half a minute if I can help it, however the meat may look,” said Jude determinedly. Scraping the bristles from the pig’s upturned throat, as he had seen the butchers do, he slit the fat; then plunged in the knife with all his might.
“‘Od damn it all!” she cried, “that ever I should say it! You’ve over-stuck un! And I telling you all the time”
“Do be quiet, Arabella, and have a little pity on the creature!”
“Hold up the pail to catch the blood, and don’t talk!”
However unworkmanlike the deed, it had been mercifully done. The blood flowed out in a torrent instead of in the trickling stream she had desired. The dying animal’s cry assumed its third and final tone, the shriek of agony; his glazing eyes riveting themselves on Arabella with the eloquently keen reproach of a creature recognizing at last the treachery of those who had seemed his only friends.
“Make un stop that!” said Arabella. “Such a noise will bring somebody or other up here, and I don’t want people to know we are doing it ourselves.” Picking up the knife from the ground whereon Jude had flung it, she slipped it into the gash, and slit the windpipe. The pig was instantly silent, his dying breath coming through the hole.

Arabella says, “There’s the sticking-knife — the one with the point”, and this phrase will have a chilling resonance as the story of Edward and Betsy Handcock unfolds. It seems that Edward Handcock was convinced that Betsy was being unfaithful to him, although no sound evidence ever emerged that this was true. When combined with his penchant for alcohol, this put him in dangerous and violent moods, as their next door neighbours, the households only separated by a thin wattle and daub wall, were later to testify.

IN PART TWO
The events of 13th November 1872
Two terrible deaths

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.

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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.”

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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

“ENOUGH TO KILL FIFTY PEOPLE” . . . The Wrangle Poisoner, 1884 (1)

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Wiki tells us that Wrangle Tofts “is a 0.8–1 km-wide band of raised ground along part of the Lincolnshire coast, running between Wainfleet All Saints and Wrangle parallel to the Wash.” Toft is an old English word for homestead, derived from the Norse topf. The 1881 census tells us that one of the cottages on Wrangle Tofts was occupied by William Lefley and his wife Mary.

1881 census

Mary was from the nearby village of Stickney, but William was born in in East Harling, Norfolk. Not that far away in these days, but far enough in 1884. William was described as a cottager, a person – usually a man – who leased a small plot of land with a cottage on it. The land was usually worked like a family vegetable plot and may have had a pen for a pig or a couple of sheep.

Contemporary accounts suggest that William and Mary shared a rather loveless marriage. There were no children. A modern family history researcher has suggested that Mary, the younger of the two, had another suitor, but there is no evidence for this, and it is pure speculation.

On the afternoon of 6th February 1884, William Lefley went home for lunch. He ate beef and potatoes, and then had some rice pudding. He  became violently ill with sickness and stomach pains. He managed to get himself to the doctor’s surgery in Wrangle, and  Doctor Bubb’s housemaid (Elizabeth Hill) later told the court:
” I remember the deceased coming to my master’s house on the 6th February. He asked for the doctor, and said he wanted him at once, as he had been poisoned by eating rice pudding. He was ill, and went to lay in an outhouse. He fell in the yard, was sick and very cold. After being seen by the Doctor’s assistant, he was taken home by a man named Chapman”.

Doctor Bubb’s sister also testified:

“I saw Lefley at my brother’s surgery. He said he had been poisoned, and was going to die. He vomited, complained of being cold, appeared be in pain, and groaned. He said he had had some pudding at dinner, and was quite well before he ate it, adding, “My wife has done it.” He said he should like to alter his will before he died. He had left everything to his wife, and his anxiety for the doctor was very great. He brought a portion of the pudding with him in the tin.”

Mary Lefley had prepared the rice pudding and left it for her husband to cook through, while she took the carrier’s cart in to Boston. By the time she returned, William Lefley was close to death. The court heard the sequence of events:

“About 6.30 pm. Mrs. Lefley came upstairs, having returned home from Boston market. Mrs. Lefley said, “Now then, what’s the matter?” William Lefley said, “You know what’s the matter; go away from me, I don’t want to see you any more.” Mrs. Lefley made no answer, and went downstairs. Another doctor was called, and he was at Lefley’s bedside when he died, just after 9.00pm”

Forensic science has come a long way since the death of William Lefley, but the work of the pathologist, exploring the remains of the human body, searching for answers, was well established in 1884, but not, perhaps in Boston. A macabre parcel was sent south, by rail, to Guys Hospital in London. In the shipment was a large stoneware jar containing the stomach, bowel, spleen, kidneys and liver of the dead man. Dr Thomas Stevenson testified:

“The stomach itself was red and highly inflamed, as if from the administration of irritant poison. The  large mass of the small and large bowel, intensely inflamed so far regards the small bowel, had the appearance commonly observed after the administration of irritant poison. The jar also contained nine fluid ounces of bloody fluid. I found arsenic, which is an irritant poison. There was arsenic in the fluid in the stomach, the stomach itself, in the fluid the bowels, and the liver. These results, to me, say that arsenic had been administered during life, and had been absorbed into the system.”

Despite there being no trace of arsenic in the house, the police drew the inevitable conclusion, and acted accordingly.

Arrest

IN PART TWO

Trial and retribution
A mystery

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

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.

FOR MORE LINCOLNSHIRE TRUE CRIMES FROM THE PAST, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

Binbrook

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