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A CHAPTER OF HORRORS . . . A tragedy from 1890 (3)

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SO FAR – George Hay, a gentleman farmer from South Reston, has taken a shotgun and killed his brother-in-law, and left his young wife Louisa horrifically injured, and clinging to life by a thread. He is in police custody in nearby Alford. It is 25th May, 1890.

There were no backlogs of court cases in rural Lincolnshire back in the 1890s. Later on the Saturday after his appalling crimes had been discovered, George Hay was before the magistrate in Alford, charged with murder and attempted murder. He had tried to injure himself while in custody, and had been strapped to a chair to prevent such an occurrence. He was, of course, remanded in custody to await trial at Lincoln Assizes in July.

The other integral part of the justice system in the case of violent death is the Coroner’s Inquest. This was convened in South Reston on Monday 26th May and was presided over by Mr Frederick Sharpley. What was going to be a melancholy affair anyway was made more dramatic by the announcement that Louisa Hay had died. Not only that, but she had died while giving birth.

I have called this story A Chapter of Horrors, with good reason. The very thought of that poor woman – just 22 years old – having suffered horrific injuries but  then having to go through the trauma of childbirth just hours afterwards is truly appalling. She was buried in South Reston Graveyard on 28th May. The church of St Edith has long since been demolished.It is pictured below. (photo courtesy of Louth Museum)

The Hay family has a corner of the graveyard (below), and members of the family were interred as recently as the 1960s, but the gravestones are terribly weathered. I could not locate Louisa’s grave, but we can assume that she lies among her family. One can only hope that she found more peace in heaven than she did on that terrible night in May 1890.

It seems that George Hay had suspected Louisa of having an affair with a young man from a nearby village. This seems to be another of his delusions, because the young man, named Banks – and members of his family – appeared at Lincoln Assizes in July 1980 to testify that there was nothing between the pair. At the Assizes trial he was, obviously, found guilty of a double murder, but there was no doubt in the minds of the judge and the jury that George Hay was insane. He was sentenced to be detained “at Her Majesty’s pleasure.” There was to be one final, brutal twist to this terrible saga. On Thursday 14th August 1890, the Hull Daily Mail reported:

A CHAPTER OF HORRORS . . . A tragedy from 1890 (2)

SO FAR – South Reston, May 1890. George Hay lives at The Grange with his wife, two young chidren, and his brother-in-law. Half a mile or so to the north-east is South Reston Hall (below), where George’s parents and siblings live. In the early hours of Saturday 24th May, George has turned up at the Hall, soaked to the skin and covered in mud. He confesses that he has tried to commit suicide in a little river in nearby Withern. He is put to bed, but then requests that someone should go to his home to see how his family are. The Grange sat near the junction of Willoughby Lane and Scrub Lane. The house presently on the site is called Prosperity Farm. Locals may be able to confirm if it is the same house. I suspect it is, but much altered. (see the image at the foot of the page)

Hall today

George Hay’s mother and his sister Lizzie had a servant put a pony between the shafts of their trap, and set off to drive the mile and a half to The Grange. They stopped in the Grange yard, and Lizzie went to the door of the house. She tried to open the door, but found resistance. When she peered through the gap she was horrified to see a woman on her knees, with bloody hands placed against the door. Lizzie’s first reaction was to tell her mother to come no closer. Seeing some men – farm labourers – standing nearby, she summoned them and asked them to force the door open. Two of the men, John Crow and John Cross did as they were told, but recoiled in horror at what lay in front of them. The woman on her knees, still alive, was Louisa Hay, George’s wife. Lizzie Hay, in an understandable state of shock, ordered the men to go into the house but they wouldn’t. Still unaware of the full horror that lay beyond the back door of The Grange, Lizzie and her mother got back on the trap, determined to go and fetch medical help from the nearest doctor.

Just a few hundred yards down the road, however, Lizzie Hay had a change of heart. She said:
“Mother, I have made a mistake.I ought to have gone into the house with those men.”
She turned the trap round and made back for the yard of The Grange, where she stepped down from the trap once more. Along with the two men, and a Mrs Scupham who had arrived on the scene, she pushed her way into the house. Louisa Hay had moved away from the door, and was sitting against the wall with one hand clasped around her knee. The state Louisa was in almost defied words, but at a subsequent court hearing, Dr William Prawford Palmer, of Withern, described what he saw:

wounds

It was later discovered that the poor woman had been crawling about on the floor of her kitchen, horribly wounded and in excruciating pain – but unable to cry out, due to her wounds – since nine-thirty the previous evening. Not only that, but she had been keeping company with a corpse – that of her brother Thomas. The farm men and Lizzie Hay lifted Louisa onto the sofa, but then they saw, slumped at the feet of a chair, the body of Thomas Hay. His injuries were equally horrific as those of his sister, but at least death had claimed him quickly. Part of his skull had been blown away, shotgun pellets were found in other parts of his body, and it seemed as though he had been sitting in the chair taking off his boots when the shots were fired.

This is a tale from the depths of hell, but it was to get worse. Unbelievably, upstairs and above the carnage, the two children of Louisa and George Hay were discovered – thankfully unharmed and seemingly oblivious of the nightmare that had just occurred. They were packed off to stay with relations near Brigg.

The police were called from Alford, and George Hay was arrested and taken into custody. The doctors desperately tried to save Louisa Hay, and when George Hay was brought before magistrates the next day, she was still clinging to life.

 

IN PART THREE – TRIAL, RETRIBUTION – AND THREE MORE DEATHS

A CHAPTER OF HORRORS . . . A tragedy from 1890 (1)


ACOH header1I have been researching and writing
about true crimes for many years now and, by their very nature, the events I have described rarely make easy reading. On display is a journey through the very worst of human character, from weakness, via jealousy and insanity, through to pure and simple evil. I can say, however, that the story I am about to tell has been hard to write. It contains descriptions of madness and physical violence which may not be to everyone’s taste, so, if you are squeamish, then maybe this is not for you. Every word of this story is taken from contemporary newspaper reports and transcriptions from a criminal trial that horrified readers in the early summer of 1890.

We are not quite in Louth, but just a few miles south east, in the gentle landscape on the edge of The Wolds, and bordering the former marshland which stretches out to the coastal settlements of Mablethorpe, Trusthorpe and Sutton. South Reston is a modest village now, as it was then. In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described South Reston like this:

RESTON (South), a parish, with a village, in Louth district, Lincoln; 2 miles N N E of Authorpe railway station, and 6 S E of Louth. Post-town, Louth. Acres, 710. Real property, £1, 312. Pop., 235. Houses, 51. The property is divided among a few. S. R. Hall is the seat of W. Hay, Esq. There is a brick and tile manufactory. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Lincoln. Value, £180. Patron, the Duchy of Lancaster. The church was rebuilt in 1865; and is in the early English style. There are chapels for Wesleyans and Free Methodists, a parochial school, and charities £7.

It is the family of William Hay of South Reston Hall (pictured below) that concerns us in this story. The Hays were a landed family spread across the county as far north as Scunthorpe and Brigg. The Hall itself is on an ancient site that dates back to pre-Domesday times. Strangely, in the 1881 census, the inhabitants of the Hall are listed as Lizzie Hay, aged 20, as Head of House, with her younger siblings Walter and Mary. You will notice the name of John Crow living close by. He was to be a witness to the dreadful events about to be described. In 1891, a few months after the dreadful crime about to be described, the Hay family seem to have been all together again.

Although it is not illegal, we are, nowadays, justifiably squeamish about first cousin marriages. Where it does occur – mostly in immigrant families – it is a proven cause of child deformities and mental health problems. The Hay family, however in the second half of the 19th century, had no qualms. George Dawson Hay, elder son of William and Elizabeth had married his first cousin, Louisa Hay. The 1881 census has her, aged 14, living with her farming family in Humberston, just south of Cleethorpes. Also named is Thomas W Hay, aged 13.

George Hay had been gifted a house and land on which to farm. South Reston Grange sits near the junction of Willoughby Lane and Scrub Lane, a little way south west of the village. The household comprised George Dawson Hay junior, just a year old, his two year-old sister Ethel, and – strangely – Louisa’s brother, Thomas.

It seems that mental illness was not uncommon in the Hay family. A Thomas Hay, of Yarborough, had died eighteen months earlier in Bracebridge Asylum, Lincoln; George Hay’s older brother, William, had died at the Hall in 1886, while his younger brother, Sidney, was undergoing treatment for what was termed ‘melancholia’. George Hay himself had spent some time in New Zealand, and had confessed to trying to do away with himself there.

On the early morning of 24th May, the staff of South Reston Hall were astonished to see George Hay enter the building. He had apparently been sleeping in a stable. but his clothes were soaking wet, and he was covered in mud from head to foot. His mother came to his aid, and he told her that he had been to the nearby village of Withern, where he had tried to drown himself in the Great Eau (pictured left), a narrow but swift flowing stream which eventually dissipates into the marshes near Saltfleet. Mrs Hay packed him off to bed with a glass of whisky, realising that this was the latest manifestation of mental troubles of which George had been complaining for some weeks. When she went up to see him, a little later that morning, he was still awake, but barely coherent. He asked her just one thing:

“I think you had better go down to The Grange, and see how they are getting on there.”

A simple request from a concerned husband? What the visitors to The Grange found would scar them for the rest of their lives.

IN PART TWO – A TRUE CHAPTER OF HORRORS

THE STEN GUN KILLER . . . A brutal murder in 1949 Leamington (2)

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SO FAR – It is January 1949. Two men, Edward Sullivan (49) and Gordon Towle (19) have been working on a Leamington building site near what is now Westlea Road. There has been friction between them, with Great War veteran Sullivan (left) apparently sneering at Towle because the latter had not done his bit in the armed forces.

The events of Tuesday 25th January 1949 were to shock and mesmerise local people. At Leamington Police Station on the High Street it was 10.20am, and senior officers Inspector Green and Superintendent Gardner were leaving to carry out a routine inspection, when a burly, broad-shouldered young man entered the station. He was carrying what appeared to be a Sten gun. He said, quite calmly and without drama:
“I have shot a man. I am ill”
Green said, with some incredulity:
“Do you know what you are saying?”
The young man, who identified himself as Gordon Towle, handed the Inspector the Sten gun, along with an empty magazine and a magazine loaded with live 9mm bullets, and said:
“He has been pulling my leg and something came Into my head. I do silly things when I am funny like that. I think I have killed him. He is on the Bury Road estate; go to him. My head went funny and I shot him. I was not in the Army and they got on to me”

Towle was placed in a cell, and the officers took a police car and soon arrived at the building site. There lying in a pool of blood was the body of a man, later identified as Edward Sullivan. Around his body were found no fewer than 24 empty 9 mm. Sten gun cartridge cases – a full magazine holds 28 – and digging operations brought to light more bullets. Some were also found embedded in a nearby timber stack. When the police surgeon Dr. D. F. Lisle Croft arrived and examined the body, he was only able pronounce life extinct.

Events now moved on at pace. Chief Superintendent Alec Spooner, Head of Warwickshire CID was called, but that was a formality; there was little or no detective work required here. The first member of the Sullivan family to be told of the tragedy was son John, home on leave from the army. He had the melancholy task of telling his mother, Katherine Margaret Sullivan, that she was a widow. Above right, Towle is pictured being taken to the preliminary magistrate’s hearing.

In a newspaper report of one of Towle’s appearance before the magistrates, the journalist certainly exercised his imagination. Under a lurid headline headline, he described the scene thus:

“An unusually strong winter sun shone through the stained-glass windows of the Town Hall Council Chamber Wednesday, etching on the floor pattern in deep scarlet and blue. As the minutes went by, the shadow moved slowly and silently across the linoleum, and equally inexorably, quietly and persuasively, Mr. J. F. Claxton (for the Director of Public Prosecutions) outlined the history of the Kingsway Estate shooting on January 25th. Beside policeman, sat 19-year-old Gordon Towle, husband of less than six months, charged with murder. According a statement alleged have been made by him, Towle could no longer stand the taunts of a workmate, and so produced a Sten gun and fired two – or three, for the number is In doubt  – bursts into the body of Edward Sullivan (49), Irishman, 6, Swadling Street, Leamington.

A full public gallery heard that Sullivan was killed outright by the ten bullets which entered his body in every vital part. The proceedings were intently listened by his widow and daughter – both in deep mourning – and his son, whose Army battle dress bore, the left arm. a narrow black band. In the afternoon, when only three of the fourteen called to give evidence remained to be heard, the Court had to move into an ante-room to make way for the tea organised by the Church England Zenana Missionary Society.

Only three members of the public, the widow, the daughter and one other lady, remained. Towle, dressed a sports coat and grey flannels, with an open necked cricket shirt, appeared to take a keen interest in all that was being said, but it was noticeable that at the end of the hearing, he blinked and then screwed face as if trying desperately hard to understand what was being said to him. He was asked if he had anything to say or any witnesses to call, and replied, quite firmly “No. sir.” — the only time he spoke throughout the hearing. But as he went to regain his seat, he stumbled little though about to fall. He sat down and heard the formality of his committal for trial at Warwick Assizes”

LynskeyGordon Towle’s time in front of Mr Justice Lynskey (left) at the March Assizes in Warwick was short – if far from sweet. Doctors gave evidence that he was quite mad, and he was sentenced to spend the rest of his days in a secure mental unit. The most puzzling matter for me was how Towle came to in possession of a Sten gun. He told the court that he had simply “pinched it” from the local drill hall, (probably the one in Clarendon Terrace) and stole the ammunition – police later found hundreds of live rounds in his house – from “an aerodrome”.

A postscript, which may bring a touch of humour to an otherwise dark tale. I can vouch for the inventive ways Army quartermasters had of “balancing the books.” regarding missing firearms. Back in the day, I taught at a public school in Cambridgeshire. The school Cadet Corps was being wound up, and an old sweat arrived from Waterbeach barracks to take an inventory of the firearms. To his dismay, he discovered that the armoury held one too many Lee Enfield rifles. This sent him into a lather, as it was apparently simple to account for missing guns on an inventory. They could just be written off as damaged or stripped for parts. But one too many? This was serious, and could only be remedied by a couple of squaddies rowing out in a boat one dark night on a local gravel pit, and dropping the offending item over the side, never to be seen again.

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THE STEN GUN KILLER . . . A brutal murder in 1949 Leamington (1)

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SwadlingSwadling Street in Leamington is an unassuming thoroughfare, with houses which were built on the old Shrubland Estate between the wars. It was named after a Leamington councillor of the 1920s, and in 1931 it boasted twenty addresses. In January 1949, number 6 was occupied by Edward Sullivan. A 49 year-old Irishman and father of six children – three sons and three daughters – he worked as a builder’s labourer. Known to his mates – inevitably – as Paddy – he was working on a council house building project on Westlea Road, which was another between-wars development on what had been the Shrubland Estate.

Just a couple of hundred yards away was Bury Road – again, named after a local civic dignitary – and number 120 was the home of Gordon Towle. He was 19 years old, and lived with his wife Lilian, who he had married just three months earlier. He worked on the same building site as Edward Sullivan. Towle was a Leamington lad, and had earlier applied to join the army, but had been rejected on medical grounds. At the age of 10, he had damaged his head in an accident, and went to hospital to have the wound dressed, but was sent home again during what he remembered as “the bad raids”. There were three air raids on Leamington on 1940. The first, in August, resulted in no casualties, but as a result of subsequent raids in October and November, 7 people were killed. It seems that Towle’s mother had a history of mental illness, and had been taken in care, which resulted in Towle and his two brothers being sent to live with family friends in Rugby.

It’s worth, at this point, to digress slightly and look at what Leamington was like in 1949. The great diaspora of families from the teeming terraces south of High Street up to the new builds in Lillington had yet to happen. Names of WW2 casualties had been added to the town war memorial but, thankfully, not in the number that the stonemasons had been tasked with in 1919. The damage caused by the Luftwaffe bombs in an effort to target Lockheed and Flavels factories had been cleared away and, despite the huge swing away from the Conservative party in the 1945 general election, Leamington still had faith in its pre-war MP, Anthony Eden. I was just 18 months old in 1949, so my memories are totally unreliable but I can tell you that our house in Victoria Street still had gas lighting, a pump in the scullery, and a large ‘copper’ in which water was heated for the weekly bath.

So, back to Edward Sullivan and Gordon Towle. The two men had clearly rubbed each other up the wrong way. Sullivan had mocked Towle for his lack of military service. We know that Sullivan had a son in the British army, and he himself had been a regular soldier with the Royal Army Service Corps during The Great War. He stayed in the army after the Armistice and did a further four years service out in India, returning in 1923. People tend to forget that men from what was to become the Republic of Ireland played a gallant part in The Great War. There were also some who fought for the British in WW2, and they were treated in a shocking manner by the Irish state after the war.

Whatever the reasons for the animosity between Sullivan and Towle, things were about to come to a dramatic and bloody head. Heaven only knows how or why, but Gordon Towle had, secreted in his bedroom a Sten gun and hundred rounds of ammunition. Most lads growing up in the 1950s with access to Commando comics and other bloodthirsty stuff, will have an instant image of what a Sten gun looks like. It was a brutally simple piece of engineering – a sub machine gun designed for destruction rather than accuracy. A full magazine contained 32 rounds of 9mm bullets, and at short range it was a devastating weapon. In part two, we will discover how and why Gordon Towle had a Sten gun in his possession and – more importantly – what he did with it.

Sten Gun

PART TWO will go live on Thursday 1st April

DEATH COMES TO NEWMARKET . . . A savage murder in Victorian Louth (3)

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PART THREE

SO FAR – On the evening of Sunday 7th March, 1875, 22 year-old Louisa Hodgson is stabbed to death in the family home on Newmarket. Her killer, suitor Peter Blanchard, has been arrested and is awaiting trial at Lincoln Assizes.

It is worth, at this point – with Louisa dead and buried and Peter languishing in a prison cell – to examine the background – to the killing. It emerged during the investigation that all was not well between Louisa and Peter. While Mr Hodgson kept out of things, Louisa’s mother was beginning to frown on the relationship., partly because Peter Blanchard was subject to epileptic fits.

There is also the question of Peter Blanchard’s jealousy. Was there a rival for Louisa’s affections? At the inquest, evidence was given by John Campion:

“I am a farmer residing in Brackenborough Lane, Louth. I was at Mr. Hodgson’s house from eight to nine o’clock the previous evening. I saw Peter Blanchard there. He came into the kitchen to light his cigar. I left about 9 o’clock and when going out I could hear Blanchard and the deceased talking very loud. I thought I heard Blanchard say ” I will.” and the deceased burst out crying. I am a friend of the deceased’s brother and I had offered to keep company with her. I believe Blanchard was jealous of me and he had threatened to give me a good thrashing as he was going to chapel on Sunday night.”

The Spring Assizes at Lincoln was only a few days after the murder. The case was presented, but adjourned until the summer, to give more time for evidence to be gathered. The Summer Assizes opened at the end of July 1875 and, as usual, the jury was made up of men of ‘reputation and good standing.’

Trial

It might be thought that when Peter Blanchard came to take the stand, proceedings would have been relatively brief, given that there was little doubt that he had killed Louisa Hodgson. His defence team, however, lead by Mr Samuel Danks Waddy, knew that their only hope of saving Peter Blanchard from execution was to convince the jury that he was insane at the time of the murder, and so there was a long debate about the prisoner’s mental health. The jury eventually retired and returned with a verdict of ‘guilty’, but with a recommendation that Blanchard should be spared the hangman’s noose. Before the judge gave his verdict, Peter Blanchard was allowed to speak:

“My Lord and Gentlemen, – I have a few words to say. I did not not know what I was doing, or else I could not have done it. I loved her so much, and never believed it was true that I had killed her till I got one of her funeral cards, for I had never anything against her. I would take my place in hell if her dear soul might go to heaven, for I would at any time sooner suffer myself, than see her suffer. I should be thankful if you would give my parents my body to take to Louth, in order that I may laid by the side of my dear Louisa. I wish to give one word of advice to you. my dear young friends, both men and women. You have come here to see me. and hear sentence passed upon me. Keep out of bad company. That was my ruin. My first failing was that I was soon persuaded to smoke ; from that I got to drinking and then to gambling, and then to neglect to go to a place of worship. Then I lost my senses at times, and then the fits came on. Let this be warning to you all. Look to Jesus, or some of you may be standing where I am next year. And if parents would look after their own families they would find plenty of work, without looking after others. After naming a man who. he said, had caused him many restless nights, the prisoner continued : I pray to God that this may be a warning to you all, and I hope my Heavenly Father will permit me to meet you all in heaven, to part no more. I shall soon be in heaven, and I am sure to meet my dear Louisa there. Young and old. come to Jesus, for he will help you in the time of trouble. Good bye to you all.”

Mr Justice Lindley was not empowered, to be merciful, however, and was only able to put Peter Blanchard’s fate in the hands of the Home Secretary:

Verdict

Screen Shot 2021-03-22 at 19.36.24Sadly for Peter Blanchard and his family, the Home Secretary, Richard Blanchard Cross (left), was not inclined to be merciful, and Peter Blanchard was executed on Monday 9th August 1875. This newspaper report tells the melancholy story:
“Peter Blanchard, a tanner, of Louth, Lincolnshire, was executed yesterday morning at Lincoln Castle for the murder of Louisa Hodgson at Louth in March last. The prisoner was examined by Dr. Briscoe on Friday, by order of the Home Secretary, with the view of ascertaining whether the jury’s recommendation to mercy, on the ground of his mind having been weakened by fits, could be acted upon. The result, however, was unfavourable to the prisoner, and the law was allowed to take its course. The crime for which Blanchard was executed was committed in a fit of jealousy arising out of a love affair. The young woman whom he was courting disregarded his attentions, nor was he looked upon favourably as a suitor by her parents. On Sunday evening, the 7th of March, she was accompanied to church by a young man, and on returning home they were met by Blanchard, who walked the remaining distance with her. When he took his departure she went to the door with him, and he suddenly drew out a knife and stabbed her to the heart, death being instantaneous. He then left and called on a neighbour, to whom he said, “I have done it.” Since his conviction Blanchard has slept well, and has been most attentive to the ministrations of the clergyman daily. On Saturday he had a final interview with his father and mother, his four brothers, and a friend. He acknowledged the justice of his punishment, and stated he had no wish to live. He averred that he did not know at the moment what he was doing when he committed the deed. Yesterday morning he was quite resigned to his fate, and walked unsupported to the gallows. He shook hands with the gaol chaplain and officials, and the last words he was heard to utter were, “Good-bye, my dear fellows; I am quite re- signed, and hope to meet you all in heaven.” He slept well on Sunday night, rose at six yesterday morning, breakfasted at seven, and wrote a short letter to his parents and brothers. He died almost without a struggle. Mr Marwood was the executioner.”

DEATH COMES TO NEWMARKET . . . A savage murder in Victorian Louth (2)

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PART TWO

SO FAR – On the evening of Sunday 7th March, 1875, 22 year-old Louisa Hodgson is stabbed to death by a man – Peter Blanchard – who had been courting her for four years. She dies almost instantly after Blanchard’s knife pierced her heart. The pair had been together in the sitting room of Louisa’s family home at 29 Newmarket (below) Blanchard has fled the scene.

Painting

William Turner, a dealer in poultry, lived with his wife Emma in their small house in Vickers Lane. It was 10.30pm, Emma Turner had gone to bed, and William had locked the house up and was preparing to join his wife, when he heard someone trying the front door. He went to investigate, and found Peter Blanchard. Blanchard was clearly in a state about something, and asked if could come in. Turner’s evidence continued as follows:

“He asked if I would give him some whisky. I said my wife had gone to bed, but I would call her down and see if we had such a thing in the house. She came down and said we had not She gave him glass of brandy instead. He said, “I have done It”. I told my wife to take the bottle away and give him no more.

I said, “Done what Peter ?” At first he made no reply, but on my again asking him, he said, “I have stabbed the missus.” These were his exact words. I said, “What with ?” and he replied, “With a butcher’s knife. If I had not done it with a butcher’s knife I should have done it with this, putting his hand into his pocket and pulling out a razor. He put it back into his pocket. He first opened and shut it again. He was very excited and irritable. I could not say he was drunk. He had the use of his limbs as well as I have mine now.

My wife prevailed upon him to take the razor from his pocket and give to me. I told my wife to call my son to fetch Peter’s father and mother, and also to go to Mr. Hodgson’s and inquire what it meant. On my son’s return he said “She is dead.”

Town Map
Locations

The Hodgsons had already sent for the police, and Sergeant Wilkinson and Superintendent Roberts were at the scene when 16 year-old Thomas Turner arrived. He immediately informed the officers that Peter Blanchard was at the house in Vickers Lane. When Wilkinson and Roberts arrived, there was a scene of complete confusion. There were several members of the Blanchard family in the house, as well as the Turners and their five other children. Superintendent Roberts then arrested Blanchard. This was his evidence:

“On my seizing the prisoner he said, “I’ll go”. I’ll go without the handcuffs”.
He then said, “Is she dead?
I said, “Yes she is, and you are charged with killing her, but keep yourself quiet”.
He was a in a very excited state. He answered me:
It’s a good job, and I’m glad.”
We then brought him to the police-station, where I told him he would be detained on a charge of wilful murder. To this be said ,
“Oh, I did it and I’ll die like a man for her.”

I told him that what he said would be taken down and given in evidence against him.  I  cautioned him and expressly warned him that whatever said would be taken down and produced against him. I did not put any questions to him. The exact words I used were these, when he was in the cell:
“When I told you that you would be charged with this serious offence, I did not know for a certainty the girl was dead. You will be charged with the wilful murder of Louisa Hodgson”’
He then said: “Is she dead?” and on my replying, “I have already told you so” he said:
“God bless her.”
He was undoubtedly under the influence of drink; but my impression was that be knew well what he was doing.”

New map

At the Magistrate’s Court the next morning, Monday 8th March, Dr Higgins gave his account of Louisa’s injuries:

“I am a registered medical practitioner, practising in Louth. I was sent for to see Louisa Hodgson at about a quarter past ten o’clock. I went at once and found her dead. I saw a wound on the chest but did not then make further examination. This morning I made a post mortem examination. The wound was situated about half an inch below the nipple of the left breast. It was an incised wound about one inch in extent. I traced the wound which had penetrated the chest wall between the fourth and and fifth ribs, passed through the interior margin of the upper lobe of the left lung, and entered the left auricle of the heart.

I found a considerable quantity of blood effused into the pericardial and pleural sacs. The wound was sufficient to cause death rapidly, almost instantaneously. The heart would only beat a few seconds after it was inflicted.

I believe the knife produced would produce a similar wound to one described. It might have penetrated four inches.”

Blanchard had thrown away the murder weapon (a butchers’ knife) but it had been recovered in Aswell Street. He had taken the knife from his landlady’s kitchen. The magistrates committed Blanchard to be tried for murder at the next Assizes in Lincoln.

Louisa Hodgson was laid to rest in Louth Cemetery on Wednesday 10th March.

Funeral

In PART THREE – trial and execution

DEATH COMES TO NEWMARKET . . . A savage murder in Victorian Louth (1)

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PART ONE

It is March 1875. Mr Disraeli is the Prime Minister, and in Louth, local architect James Fowler is Lord Mayor. At No. 29 Newmarket lives agricultural blacksmith John Hodgson, his wife Jane and their large family. Elder son Charles has moved out but there are still seven other young Hodgsons at home, the oldest being Louisa, aged 22.

For the last four years, Louisa has been courted by a young man called Peter Blanchard, aged 25, the elder of another large family who live at 29 Charles Street. Peter’s father, Peter senior, with whom he works was described as a fellmonger, an old word for someone who deals in animal skins. Peter the younger had moved out of the family home and was living in town with a woman called Mrs Baker who kept a lodging house on Eastgate.

Photograph of Free Methodist Church, Eastgate, Louth, Lincolnshire [c.1930s-1980s] by John Piper 1903-1992


The Hodgson family were devout churchgoers, and their chosen place of worship was the imposing Free Methodist church on Eastgate (above). This had been built in the 1850s after the so-called ‘Free’ Methodists split from the mainstream Wesleyan church. On the evening of Sunday 7th March, the Hodgson family attended the evening service in Eastgate. Peter Blanchard was standing across the way from the church, outside Mrs Baker’s house, and he came over to talk to Louisa but did not join them when they went into the church. At about 7.45 pm, the family left the church, to find Blanchard waiting for them. Mr and Mrs Hodgson went to visit friends in the town but Louisa, Blanchard and the two younger Hodgson girls – Alice and Harriet – walked up the hill to Newmarket.

Mr and Mrs Hodgson returned home at 9.15, along with another young man called John George Campion, a farmer who lived on Brackenborough Road. Louisa and Blanchard were  together in the sitting room, but the rest of the family were in the kitchen. Contemporary newspaper reports can do a much better job of describing what happened next that I can. These were the words of John Hodgson:

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In PART TWO – an arrest and a funeral

DEATH AT SANDOWN VILLA . . . True crime in Leamington Spa (2)

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PART TWO

The story so far. It is May, 1905, and 21 year-old Maida Warner, who had been working as a domestic servant for Mr and Mrs Patterson on Rugby Road, has been sent home to her parents in Stockton, after a mysterious medical emergency. Maida has taken the train from Milverton Station and once they are sure she has gone, John and Lizzie Patterson go up to the girl’s room. Let the newspaper report take up the narrative:

“In the bedroom, Mr Patterson found Maida Warner’s tin traveling trunk. It was strapped up, and appeared the same as when she first came to the house with it. There was also parcel of clothes on the top of the box, and on opening it he saw that which aroused his suspicions still further. He took up the tin box to see how heavy it was, and he found it heavier than he expected. On opening he found a lot of underclothing, and moving these he discovered a parcel, wrapped up in an apron and tied with string. He left the parcel on the floor. and from what saw he went and called Mrs. Moffat, a neighbour, and told her of his suspicions. Patterson asked her to examine the parcel and, with his wife, left the room. When Mrs Moffat returned downstairs she informed them that she had found a dead baby.”

Mary Moffat lived with her husband at Cliff Cottage, next door to the Pattersons, and her testimony at a later court hearing chills the blood, even today.

“I went into the servant’s bedroom. Mrs. Patterson pointed out a parcel to me, which I examined. It contained soiled linen, and evidence that a child had been born. I then examined the contents of the tin box. and found a fish basket, tied with string. Cutting the string, I found a parcel fastened with a safety pin and tied round with a necktie. This I also cut, and on unwrapping the parcel saw the body of a child. It was quite blue in the face, but I did not notice whether anything was tied round the neck. I thought the body looked as it had been washed.”

In a state of shock, Patterson sent for the police. Detective-Sergeant Matthews arrived and went into the back bedroom, and there saw two bundles as described by John Patterson and Mary Moffat. The second bundle contained the body of a male child, wrapped in towels and apron. Matthews removed the body to the mortuary, where Dr Rice made a post-mortem examination. The next day, accompanied by Chief Constable Earnshaw, Matthews went to Stockton and saw the girl, Maida Warner, at her father’s house in Elm Row (below).

Elm Row

He took her to Leamington Police Station, and, after cautioning her, charged her with the wilful murder of the male child on or about May 31st. She replied, “I am innocent of that.” When he saw her first at Stockton she was walking about, and he did not notice anything unusual about her. Warner was subsequently removed to the Warneford Hospital, and from there to the Infirmary at Warwick Gaol.

Dr. Rice’s post mortem report to the Coroner at the inquest into the baby’s death makes for grim reading:

“On the evening of June 3rd I saw the body of the child at the mortuary. I made a post-mortem examination on Sunday, and found that it was a male child, fairly well developed, weighing 51bs. 6oz. On Saturday I had come to the conclusion that the child had lived, but had been dead one or two days. I found a string tied three times round the neck, and firmly knotted at the end of the second round, and again at the end the third round. The child’s face was livid, the tongue protruding, and the fingers clenched. The body was wrapped in an apron which was marked M. Warner.

I made the post-mortem in company with Dr. Ross. Decomposition was just beginning. There were two small punctures of the skin on the left of the stomach, such might have been caused a large pin, but they did not penetrate deeplv. The brain was healthy, but congested, and there was good deal of blood under the scalp, which was the natural process of child birth. The heart was healthy and the lungs inflated. I am of the opinion that the child was healthy child, at, or near, full time, that it had lived and breathed freely. The cause death suffocation by strangulation, which might have been caused the cord round the infant’s neck. The child was alive when this constriction was put round it. It was impossible to say that the child was wholly born, at the time it was done.”

THE FINAL PART WILL BE AVAILABLE
AT 6.00pm ON MONDAY 1st MARCH

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