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THE IMPOSTER . . . Between the covers

Imposter spine010 copy

Author Leona Deakin started her career as a psychologist with the West Yorkshire Police. She is now an occupational psychologist, and this is the fourth book in her series featuring Augusta Bloom.

Imposter front008Dr Augusta Bloom is a psychologist who specialises in the criminal mind. Her business partner is Marcus Jameson, a former British intelligence agent. Bloom is often employed by the police as a consultant when  a particular case demands her particular skill-set. The killers Bloom is requested to track down have struck twice, leaving only burnt matches as a clue. I use the plural ‘killers’ advisedly, as we know they are a team, but Bloom and the police have yet to discover this.

As with the previous novels, there are two parallel plots in The Imposter. One involves Seraphine Walker who is, if you will, Moriarty to Bloom’s Holmes. Walker, despite being clinically psychopathic, is not overtly criminal, but has recruited all kinds of people who most certainly are. She heads up an organisation which, to those who enjoy a good conspiracy theory, is rather like a fictional World Economic Forum, peopled by shadowy but powerful influencers from across the globe, united by a hidden agenda The relationship between Bloom and Walker has an added piquancy because they were once doctor and patient. The backstory also involves someone we met in a previous novel – the disgraced former Foreign Secretary Gerald Porter, a ruthless man who is now happily bent on evil,  unimpeded by the constraints of being a government minister with the eyes of the world on him.

Leona_DeakinAugusta Bloom is an interesting creation. She is a loner, and not someone who finds personal relationships easy, not with Marcus Jameson nor with her notional boss, DCI Mirza, who is deeply sceptical about Bloom’s insights. When the police finally join all the dots, they realise that rather than two killings, there have probably been as many as eleven, which ramps up the pressure on Bloom and Jameson. Leona Deakin, (right) as one might expect from a professional psychologist, has constructed an complex relationship between Bloom, Walker and Jameson. As readers, we are not spoon-fed any moral certainties about the trio. Rather, we infer that their boundaries are, perhaps, elastic. As John Huston (as Noah Cross) said in Chinatown:
“You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.”
Each of the trio – Bloom, Jameson and Walker –  has a certain dependence on the two others, but Deakin keeps it open and enigmatic, leaving all plot options open to her. This symbiotic relationship has led to Augusta Bloom taking an industry – standard test to discover if she is herself a *psychopath. To her relief, although she is marking her own paper, she doesn’t tick enough boxes.

*Psychopathy, sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy, is characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.

Finally, Bloom cracks the mystery, Mirza and Jameson see the light, and we readers realise that Leona Deakin has been pulling the wool over our eyes for nearly 300 pages. There is a tense and violent finale, and this clever and engaging novel ends with us looking forward to the next episode in this excellent series.

The Imposter is published by Penguin and is available in paperback and Kindle now. For reviews of the three previous novels in the series, click the links below.

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THE SIBSEY MURDER . . . A brutal killing in 1859 (2)

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SO FAR: March 1859. An elderly Sibsey farm labourer, William Stevenson, has been found dead in a ditch, his head destroyed by repeated blows from a blunt object. Three local men have been arrested on suspicion of his murder. One has been released without charge, but William Pickett and Henry Carey have been accused of the murder.

Their motive for killing William Stevenson? He was hardly a rich man, but on his return from Boston market he had a few shillings in his pocket and, incredible though it may seem, it was for these pieces of silver that he was repeatedly battered about the head and thrown in a ditch to die.

The sequence of events when people were suspected of murder back in the day was that there would be a coroner’s inquest where the cause of death would be established and – assuming there were suspects identified – a jury would, provided they were convinced that there was a case to answer, send the case on to magistrates. The magistrates court would normally be a repeat version, but with the case focusing on the suspect(s) rather than the victim. The final element in the trilogy was the Assize Court. This would be held four times a year, and almost always in the county town, and presided over by a senior judge. This arrangement meant that key witnesses for both prosecution and defence had to give their evidence three times, the only difference being that in the Assize Court the cross examination by barristers would be more incisive.

So it was that Carey and Pickett, having been in custody since late March finally had their day in court in late July, in front of Mr Justice Williams at Lincoln Assizes. By this time, Pickett had decided his best defence was to claim that he had been a reluctant partner in the fatal enterprise, and he feared Carey’s violence more than he feared justice. Given no other choice, Pickett was reduced to making a counter claim against his associate, but neither the judge nor the jury were convinced. Readers of The Lincolnshire Chronicle of the morning of 29th July were informed:

“Long before the Judge took his seat on the bench this morning, the Court was crowded to excess. Every avenue by which it was hoped that access to it could be gained was also besieged by an anxious crowd. The bench, as yesterday, was filled with ladies, and a hoarse murmur pervaded the court, as of parties expectant of some great exhibition. His Lordship took his seat on the bench precisely at half-past nine o’clock. The prisoners, on their appearance in the dock, presented the same appearance as on the previous day, save that their countenances seemed more anxious and worn. His lordship at once summed up. The pith of his lordship’s address to the jury was, that there could be no doubt,from the confession of both prisoners that they were present on the dreadful occasion, and, therefore, all the evidence given was superfluous. Each prisoner accused the other of striking the blow by which William Stevenson met his death.”

“The learned counsel for Picket bad endeavoured to show that Pickett was merely an accessory after the fact, and he, therefore, went into the evidence against prisoner. He pointed out that Pickett had given two different accounts of the place where he spent the night of the murder. Before proceeding to read Pickett’s statement, his lordship explained the law with respect to such confessions. The jury might believe all or any part of it they pleased. They should also read that part of the evidence which tended to show that the deed was done more than one person. With regard to Pickett’s confession, his lordship remarked that had that prisoner been a mere innocent stander-by while Stevenson was knocked down, he might have interfered, and there would have been two to one. He put it to the jury whether they could believe that he was reduced by terror to the state of inaction he describes. Tbe jury, amid the breathless silence of the crowded court, returned a verdict of GUILTY of WILFUL MURDER against both the prisoners, and the learned Judge, having assumed the black cap, proceeded to pass upon them the sentence of DEATH. The prisoners, who heard their doom with little emotion, were then removed. This concluded the criminal business of the Assizes, and the court rose.”

The hanging of Carey and Pickett on the morning of 5th August 1859, conducted by William Askern and the Horncastle cobbler William Marwood was the the last public hanging at Lincoln.

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The names of Carey and Pickett remain inscribed in the judicial records while their victim, William Stevenson, was interred in the churchyard of St Margaret’s Sibsey, a few days after his brutal murder.

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Criminals executed at Lincoln were interred with little ceremony in a tiny walled garden in the Lucy Tower. I am grateful for Alan Robinson for allowing me to use his photograph of the the last resting place of Henry Carey and William Pickett.

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As a mundane comment on the price of justice, the Stamford Mercury of 21st October 1859 reported:

Expenses

FOR MORE HISTORICAL LINCOLNSHIRE MURDERS
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Lincolnshire Murders

THE SIBSEY MURDER . . . A brutal killing in 1859 (1)

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In 1859 The Lincolnshire village of Sibsey, just north of Boston, had a population of around 1400. The Sibsey Trader mill had yet to be built, but the railway had arrived in 1848. The 1851 census recorded the names of William Pickett, aged about 13, living with his parents and 9 siblings at Cherry Corner, Sibsey Northlands; Henry Carey, aged 18, lodging with Potter family at Sibsey Fenside, and someone who newspapers later described as ‘a notoriously bad character’, and William Stevenson, aged 57, an agricultural labourer. On the evening of Tuesday 16th March 1859, the lives of these men were to collide, with violent and fatal results for all three.

On the Tuesday morning, Stevenson had left home to go to market, and returned in the evening. He went to *The Ship inn in Sibsey Northlands which, as the name suggests, is a small settlement to the north of Sibsey. Stevenson’s home was in Stickney Westhouses, about a mile away from the pub and, after a convivial evening of drinking and smoking, he left The Ship at about 10.30 pm to walk the mile or so to his home. Westhouses is more or less a single track road these days and, on a winter’s night would still be bleak and forbidding. But this was a warm August night, and Stevenson, no doubt warmed from within by an evening drinking, would have had little fear of being out on his own on a lonely country road. He never reached his home.

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*It is not clear if The Ship was a different pub from The Boat which is marked on old OS maps. The Ship was destroyed by fire in the late 1960s, and was owned by the Soulby, Son & Winch brewery.

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Beside Westhouses Road ran a small drain, described in later court reports as ‘a sewer’. At a coroner’s inquest on Friday 19th August a local woman, Sarah Semper, testified:

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What followed the grim discovery was recorded at the subsequent Coroner’s Inquest.

A messenger was despatched for Dr. Moss, of Stickney, and Dr. Smith, of Sibsey, and another to the police, with information of the occurrence. The deceased’s son then commenced inquiries as to where his father had spent the previous evening, and on ascertaining that he had been at the Ship, proceeded there, and on going into the tap-room about seven o’clock in the morning, saw Carey and Pickett sitting there drinking beer; they had been there about hour: he sat opposite them for a minute or two and noticed spots of blood on their boots; he made no remark, but went and gave information of his suspicions to Sergeant Jones, who apprehended Sands ( a young man who was subsequently absolved from any blame) at half-past ten at his father’s house in bed; Pickett about half-past one, and Carey a little later in the the Ship. Sands stated that he slept in his father’s hovel, and on it being inspected it was ascertained that some one had slept there.

“Pickett stated that he slept in his father’s stable, and Carey came to him at five o’clock in the morning, and they afterward, went to the Ship together. From the evidence of Sergeant Jones, and from inspection of the locality, it appears that the deceased had only gone a short distance after he left the public-house, when some person, crossed the road (which is a silt one, showing footmarks) from the opposite side to that where he was walking, and overtook him, and struck him a violent blow on the head, which felled him to the ground.”

A struggle then ensued, and having been ultimately overpowered, after his pockets were emptied,  the deceased was dragged to the side of the road, and thrown into a deep ditch: out of this he appeared to have scrambled, and got up the bank, and through the hedge, leaving traces of blood upon the bank and hedge, and got into an adjoining field. The murderers seeing their victim recovering, and doubtless fearing that he might identify them if he got away, crossed over the ditch by bridge a little higher up, and overtook the deceased in the field, where with hedge stakes they finished their bloody work, literally battering his skull and dashing out his brains, the ground about showing the following morning strong evidence of the murderous attack, patches of blood, pieces of skull and hair lying about They then carried the murdered man short distance and threw him over a hedge into the ditch where he was found.”

IN PART TWO

Trial, retribution, and a job for the Horncastle cobbler

THE FAMILY TREE MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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This is a welcome return for my favourite crime solving partnership in current fiction – 1960s Brighton reporter Colin Crampton and his delightful Australian girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith. Shirley discovers via an enigmatic letter – promising unidentified riches – that a long lost relative, Hobart Birtwhistle, has fetched up in the delightfully named Sussex village of Muddles Green, just a short spin away from Brighton in Colin’s rakish MGB. Unfortunately, when the couple arrive at half-uncle Hobart’s cottage, any avuncular reunion is prevented by the fact that the old chap is dead in his study chair, with a nasty head wound and throttle marks around his throat.

Colin and Shirley conduct their own investigation into Hobart’s murder and, as ever, it takes them far and wide, involving – amongst others – a tetchy history don with expertise in Australia’s gold rush, an eccentric Scottish lord and a team of women cricketers, not forgetting a most improbable but highly entertaining encounter with Ronnie Kray. Peter Bartram (perhaps an older real life version of Colin Crampton) never strays far away from the bedrock of these mysteries – the smoky offices and noisy print rooms of the Evening Chronicle. Crampton’s boss – the editor, Frank Figgis, perpetually wreathed in a haze of Woodbines smoke, also has a job for his chief crime reporter. Figgis, foe reasons of his own, has written a memoir, almost certainly full of dirty secrets featuring colleagues and bosses. But it has gone missing. Has the befuddled Figgis mislaid it, or has it been stolen? Figgis makes it clear that the recovery of the missing ‘blockbuster’ is to be Crampton’s chief focus.

Unfortunately, the killing of Hobart Birtwhistle is not the last in a fatal sequence that seems connected with the complex genealogy of Shirley’s obscure relatives – and a huge gold nugget discovered back in the day in Australia. Thanks to the research of the Scottish aristocrat (the real life Arthur ‘Boofy’ Gore), Shirley learns something that may well prove to be ‘to her advantage’, but may also put her name to the top of the killer’s list.

Former journalists do not always have the required skills to write good novels. Penning a 1000 word front page exclusive is not the same as writing a 300 page book. Novel readers need to be engaged long term – they don’t have the option of switching to the sports news on the back pages. Peter Bartram makes the transition with no apparent effort – he retains his journalist’s skill of boiling a narrative down to its essentials, while fleshing out the story with delightful characterisation and period detail.

Bartram’s genius lies partly in not taking himself too seriously as he tugs at our nostalgic heartstrings by recreating an impeccably convincing mid-1960s milieu, but – more potently – in having created two utterly adorable main characters who, if we couldn’t actually be them, we would at least love to have known them. At my age, current events beyond my control make me daily more choleric, and wishing for the days of common sense and decency, long since gone. But then I can retreat into a beautiful book like this, and be taken back to a kinder time, a time I understood and felt part of.

The Family Tree Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is available now. For more information on the Crampton of The Chronicle novels, click the image below.

Bartram Link

THE SANDRINGHAM MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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I found this novel intriguing in two ways. Firstly, the action takes place on my home turf. I live in Wisbech (well, someone has to) and Spalding, Sutterton, Sutton Bridge (just over the border in Lincolnshire), and Sandringham in West Norfolk are all very familiar. Christina James (real name Linda Bennett) writes:

“I was born in Lincolnshire, in England, and grew up in Spalding. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the South Lincolnshire Fens, with their huge skies, limitless landscapes and isolated communities; I have always been interested in the psychology of the people who have lived there over the centuries. I have now put some of this interest and fascination into the fictional world of Detective Inspector Tim Yates.”

I believe she now lives in Leeds, but the Lincolnshire (South Holland is the administrative district) landscape is as vivid as if she were just still standing there.

Secondly, she employs two narrative viewpoints. The first is centred on DI Tim Yates – obviously one of the good guys – but the second is narrated by a rich industrialist called Kevan de Vries, and we are not sure if he is on the side of the angels or the devils.

Kevan de Vries lives in a palatial country home called Lauriston, in the village of Sutterton. Almost by accident (police are investigating a suspected burglary) a package of forged UK passports is discovered in the cellar, but de Vries claims he has no knowledge of how they got there.  Then, a more shocking discovery is made, in the shape of skeletons which, when examined, appeared to be those of black people. They have been there since the 19th century.

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For all his riches, de Vries had not been able to buy happiness. His wife Joanna has terminal cancer, and their autistic son attends a boarding school in nearby Sleaford. The couple spend much of their time on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, while the business of running the huge processing plant in South Lincolnshire is largely left to a manager called Tony Sentance who, surprisingly, de Vries loathes and abhors. So, does Sentance have some kind of hold on de Vries?

Screen Shot 2022-11-17 at 18.46.47Tim Yates’s life is made even more complicated when the remains of a young woman are found on the Queen’s estate at Sandringham, across the border in Norfolk. It should be none of Yates’s business, except that the dead woman was wearing branded work clothing from Kevan de Vries’ factory. Meanwhile, a mysterious diary dating back to Victorian times, and found in the cellar at Lauristan, reveals that the controversial colonial politician Cecil Rhodes had connections with the family who owned the house at the time.

When Yates investigates the connection between the girl whose remains were concealed on the royal estate and the de Vries factory, he comes up against a wall of silence which convinces him that the dead girl was caught up in a trafficking and prostitution racket linked to the huge numbers of Eastern Europeans who came to work in the area during the years of *freedom of movement.

*The tens of thousands of people from Poland and the Baltic states who arrived in Eastern England in the 2000s transformed towns like Boston, Spalding and Wisbech. The owners of food processing factories and farmers grew rich, and the immigrants found they could earn far more for their labours than they could back home. There was a downside to this, in that along with the hard working immigrants came unscrupulous people who made fortunes exploiting cheap labour, renting out multiple-occupancy homes and – worst of all – establishing a thriving slavery and prostitution network.

This is an enjoyably complex novel which works on one level as an excellent police procedural while, on another, takes a long hard look at how powerful people – both now and in times past – exploit the most vulnerable in society. The Sandringham Mystery is published by Bloodhound Books and is available now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confession

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

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

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

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

FOR MORE WARWICKSHIRE MURDERS, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

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THE OUTRAGE AT OUTHILL . . . A brutal murder in rural Warwickshire (1)

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Outhill Farm is a lonely enough place even today, despite being beside the busy A1489 road from Henley-in-Arden to Redditch, but in the spring of 1862, it would have seemed even more remote. The tenant farmer was a Mr Davis Edge. Among his employees were two young people, both in their early 20s. Ploughman George Gardner – a native of Broadway in Worcestershire – was a burly and, apparently, a rather uncouth fellow, while Sarah Kirby, a domestic servant, was described as a very comely young woman, and much respected in the neighbourhood for her modesty and gracious manner. Across the Atlantic, our cousins were in the second year of a brutal and divisive civil war, but in England, at least in the face of it, all was peace and calm. It is 23rd April, a day doubly celebrated these days as being our national saint’s day and also the birthday of our greatest dramatist, born just a dozen or so miles from the scene of this tragedy.

It is clear that Gardner ‘had designs’ on Sarah Kirby, but the attraction was never mutual. A later newspaper report used the circumlocutory language of the day to describe something which we would be more frank about these days.

Brutal passion

The press saw George Gardner, rightly of wrongly, as the Beast to Sarah Kirby’s Beauty:

“Gardner was a remarkably stout-built, firmly knit man, about five feet four inches in height, with a heavy and unintellectual head, set upon a short, thick neck, which only rose a few inches above his muscular and expansive chest. He was of dark complexion, with dark hair and whiskers, and a countenance anything but prepossessing. In this case the man’s appearance was true index to his character. Devoid of education, he allowed his brutish passions to govern him instead of endeavouring to keep them in check.”


Gardner had, at least in his own mind, another grudge against Sarah Kirby. The farm men used to come back to the house at lunchtime, and be served a meal, accompanied by beer. Gardner was convinced that Sarah, who acted as waitress, ‘served him short’ and would not fill up his tankard when he asked. The question of sanity, in these old murder cases – as in those of more recent times – is always problematic. There is an argument that men like Gardner would have to be insane to think they could get away with the crimes they were about to commit. Insanity is not the same as stupidity, however, and perhaps Garner’s limited knowledge of the world was the cause of  his apparent optimism that he could commit murder and get away with it. What happened in that Outhill farmhouse on 23rd April 1862 was graphically described in a newspaper report:

The shooting

IN PART TWO

An escape
A manhunt
An arrest
A rendezvous with “The Dudley Throttler”

 

ON MY SHELF . . . November 2022

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An autumn garland of goodness sits on my shelf today. Reading definitely gets easier as the days become shorter – one of the few compensations of winter.

THE FAMILY TREE MYSTERY by Peter Bartram

I love this series set in and around Brighton in the 1960s. The former journalist combines nostalgia, likeable characters, daft jokes, clever references to the politics and social habits of the time, and addictive story lines. In this latest episode the (possibly autobiographical) crime reporter for the Brighton Evening Chronicle – Colin Crampton – and his gorgeous Aussie girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith become entangled in a murder mystery involving a distant relative of Shirley’s, who is found murdered. The Family Tree Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and the paperback is available now.

THE IMPOSTER by Leona Deakin

A welcome return here for Dr Augusta Bloom, a psychologist with a particular skill in solving criminal cases. In this, the fourth in the series, she is on the trail of an elusive serial killer whose victims include a stock-market trader is pushed from a high-rise balcony and falls to his death on the street below, and a member of the Saudi Royal Family, whose decomposing body is discovered in a car. This is published by Penguin and will be out in paperback on 24th November. Previous books in the series can be explored here.

THE SANDRINGHAM MYSTERY by Christina James

Mostly set in the Lincolnshire area known as South Holland, this novel also echoes a real life murder from 2012, when the remains of Latvian teenager Alisa Dmitrijeva was found on the late Queen’s estate near Sandringham. Lincolnshire copper, DI Tim Yates, becomes involved with the murder when the clothes the dead girl was wearing are identified as work-wear from a food processing factory, whose owner – Kevan de Vries – has come to the attention of the police when a pile of forged passports – and some long dead corpses – are found in the cellar of his mansion. This novel came out earlier this year, and is published by Bloodhound Books.

RUN TO GROUND by Stuart Johnstone

Tartan Noir now, with the third book by Stuart Johnstone featuring Edinburgh copper Don Colyear. Colyear has made the transition from his role as a Community Police Sergeant to a new position in Edinburgh’s CID, but the adjustment has not been easy. The workload and paperwork are one thing but being micro-managed by DCI Templeton as well is more than testing. When Colyear’s investigation into a mysterious death spirals into a complicated case centred on a massive consignment of Class A drugs, a double murder and a clash between low-level and professional criminals, his instincts are put to the test. This is from Allison & Busby, and you can get hold of a copy from 17th November.

MURDER UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Rachel Rhys

Scottish crime novels are routinely described as ‘gritty’, but the same adjective could never be used to describe this latest novel from Rachel Rhys. We are in post WW2 Italy, in the lush landscape of Tuscany, where the lavish villas are peopled by the rich and glamorous, including an ailing gentleman art-dealer, his dazzling niece, her handsome Fascist husband, their neglected young daughter, the housekeeper who knows everything – and Connie, the English widow working for them. But all is far from well for Connie. At night, she hears hears sinister noises and a terrible wailing inside the walls, and she fears she is losing her grip on reality. If this has whetted your appetite, then I’m afraid you will have to wait until March 2023 to find out more, but I shall be posting a full review of this Penguin publication a little nearer the time.

THE SIX WHO CAME TO DINNER by Anne Youngson

Not hardcore crime fiction, I suspect, but this collection of six linked stories includes: The village cleaning lady who holds everyone’s house-keys opens a boot to find some unexpectedly dead contents; a vengeful dinner party host serves more than just a roast to her six guests; and driven to distraction by his new young wife, a man resorts to two grisly acts, in a gripping re-imagining of a famous Irish ballad. Ripping away the polite façade of small communities, these stories of love, lies and revenge reveal the roiling emotions and frustration that can lead seemingly good people to do bad things. Rich in compassion, pathos and humour, Anne Youngson offers us her dark take on human foibles, pettiness and rivalry in this collection. My copy is a rather elegant and beautifully produced hardback. It is published by Doubleday, and is available now.

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DEATH IN DONINGTON . . . A Lincolnshire murder, 1897 (2)

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SO FAR: It is 25th May, 1897. Donington Farmer Joseph Bowser has been in bed most of the day and has been drinking heavily. Late in the afternoon he staggers downstairs, in a foul mood, and attacks his wife Susan, kicking her brutally. She staggers to her feet and seeks refuge in the doorway of a building used to rear calves. The Bowsers’ servant, Elizabeth Berridge, sketched later (below) by a court reporter, witnessed what happened next.

Elizabeth Berridge

The shooting

Lister, and a young woman called Eliza Drury were distant relatives, and had been staying with the Bowsers. It remained a matter of some controversy that Lister had apparently made no effort to restrain the murderous Bowser, while being fully aware of what he was about to do. The Bowsers’ farmhouse was isolated, there were no telephones, and information only traveled as fast as someone could run, or a horse could gallop. Let The Lincolnshire Echo take up the story:

Dr. E. W. Jollye next gave evidence. He was called between 5.30 and 6 on the evening in question, and was asked to go Bowser’s directly. He, asked what was the matter, and was told Bowser had shot his wife, and that it was thought she was dead, but he was wanted to go and see. On arriving he saw the girl who fetched her master, who came out, to meet him. On witness saying “What is the matter?” Bowser replied, “You’ll see, she is there.” He examined deceased and while doing so Bowser stood close by, and kept saying over and over again “She has tantalised me.” Bowser further said “I have done it, and I am ready to go when they fetch me.”

“The charge had entered the skull just over the right eye and in a mass, that was, the shots had not spread. The charge went downward and to the left, coming out at the nape of the neck on the left side. The socket the eve was completely smashed, the brains scattered on the door, and there was a deal of blood under the head. The bones on the top of the head were all broken, though he would not say the skull was completely shattered. The cause of death was the gun-shot wound. The shots had made a clean way. By Mr. Crawford: He found one recent bruise just on the right buttock, and other smaller ones close to, apparently connected. There was a smaller bruise on the left buttock, but nearer the centre line of the body. There were other discolourations of the skin, but these had accrued after death. He would give no opinion as to the cause the bruises; they might nave been caused by a fall on a hard substance.”

“Bracebridge Seward, labourer, said that on the afternoon of the day question, as he was passing along the road, he saw Bowser kick his wife very badly twice. Bowser then went to the tumbril, and leaned over it for some two or three minutes, and then groaned out. saving the woman. “You –,” and went to the house. Witness heard no report of gun, having gone then. The woman had a difficulty in getting up, and went to the fowl-house in a “staggery” manner, which led him to think she was rather intoxicated.”

Joseph Bowser was quickly convicted of murder by the local magistrates and packed off to Lincoln to await trial at the next Assizes. Meanwhile Susan Bowser was interred in Donington churchyard.

Funeral

On Wednesday 7th July Joseph Bowser was found guilty at Lincoln Assizes by the judge, Baron Pollock, and sentenced to death. An artist made sketches of some of those present.

Illustrations

Joseph Bowser was executed at Lincoln Prison on Tuesday 27th July 1897.

Execution

Criminal record

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Donington Church

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