THE STORY SO FAR … Fanny Dodd and Joseph Hewitt, two “star-crossed lovers” if ever there were, had a brief relationship in the summer of 1886. The result? A baby girl named Daisy Hewitt Dodd. In April 1887, the body of a baby is found beside a stream. Arrests are made.
Then, as now, criminal cases are first presented at Magistrates’ Courts. On Wednesday 11th May 1887, Charlotte Dodd and her daughter Fanny appeared at Kenilworth Magistrates’ Court, charged with the wilful murder of Daisy Hewitt Dodd. The presiding magistrate was Colonel John Machen (left), a distinguished local figure and a surgeon by profession.. His military rank was an honorary one, awarded for his prominent role in raising the 10th (Leamington) Warwickshire Rifle Corps in 1860, becoming its first Captain.
The hearing was a brief one because, for some reason, the court demanded a formal identification of the victim. Consequently, the court was adjourned and a submission sent to The Home Office requesting that the recently interred body of baby Dodd be exhumed. The request was granted, and the poor child had one last, pointless indignity inflicted on her. The next day, the coffin was brought from the ground and opened in the presence of PC Standley and the church sexton. The newspaper report makes for grim reading:
On 18th May, the adjourned hearing reopened, and a bizarre tale unfolded. On the morning of 26th April, Charlotte and Fanny Dodd, carrying baby Daisy, had set out from their Moreton Morrell home to walk to Warwick. They were accompanied for part of the way by an elderly neighbour, a Mrs Wincote. She was told that Fanny was taking the baby to Stoneleigh, where it would be looked after by its paternal grandmother, Mrs Hewitt. The party arrived in Warwick and went to sit in The Castle Arms, where they ate bread and cheese, and drank beer. Not long after they arrived, Fanny Dodds left with the baby, presumably heading for Stoneleigh, some five miles away.
The landlady of The Castle Arms, Elizabeth Hannah Butler, testified that Fanny Dodds returned later on that afternoon, holding a bundle of baby clothes, stating that the grandmother didn’t need them, as she had plenty of her own.
The magistrates’ hearing, despite its length, was a formality. Colonel Machen decided that there was a case to answer, and the cavalcade moved on – to the Warwick Assizes to be held at the beginning of August. The presiding judge was Sir Alfred Wills, (right) a Birmingham man whose career defining moment was yet to come,as he would be the judge in the third trial of Oscar Wilde and when the writer was found guilty of gross indecency, Wills sentenced him to two years hard labour.
As was customary in those days, the names of the jurors were published in the press, and it is worth noting that among their number was Colonel Machen, who had been the magistrate when Charlotte and Fanny were first brought to court. The press report began in this fashion:
“Prisoners pleaded not guilty. Mr Soden with Mr Keep conducted the prosecution, and the prisoners were defended by Mr Hugo Young, with whom was Mr Cartland. The Court was crowded and much interest was excited by the case. The younger prisoner, whose appearance is somewhat prepossessing, apparently felt her position keenly. Mr Soden, for the Crown, having given an outline the facts of the case, adduced the following evidence :”
The evidence was provided by the old lady who had walked into Warwick with Charlotte and Fanny on that fateful morning, the landlady of The Castle Arms, Joseph Hewitt and his father and, of course the police. The principle argument by the defence counsel was that Fanny, pausing at Wootton Court Bridge, had accidentally killed the baby by dropping it and had then panicked. Mr Young stated:
“If that occurred – and he submitted it was a most probable inference – it was only natural that the girl, with no one to advise her what do, should take means to hide the body, in order that she should not be charged with having intentionally killed the child. In the fear which was then upon her, it was a likely thing that she would take off its clothes so as not to leave any traces of identity. If it was her intention to have killed the child, he submitted that it would be improbable that she would go to Warwick, where she would be seen by many people, or that she would go far in the direction of Stoneleigh.
It was far more probable that she would have disposed of the body in another direction, without running the great risk of going to Warwick. After the occurrence he had described, the girl, upon getting home, told her mother all the had happened, and it was quite natural that the mother, in her endeavour to shield her daughter, would support her story.”
Another bizarre possibility was raised, and it was that Daisy had been killed in Moreton Morrell, and then carried into Warwick and on towards Leek Wootton. This was inferred from the fact that neither the old lady who accompanied them nor the pub landlady never once heard the baby cry or witnessed it being fed. The judge, in a lengthy summing up hinted that there was no evidence that Charlotte Dodd had done anything except cover up for Fanny which, as a mother, would be perfectly understandable. The Leamington Spa Courier reported the dramatic conclusion to the trial:
“The jury then retired their room, and were absent about half an hour. Upon their return into Court, and in answer to the usual question put the Clerk of Arraigns, the foreman said they found the younger prisoner, Fanny Goldby guilty, but strongly recommended her to mercy. They found the elder prisoner Dodd not guilty. The prisoner Goldby then stood with the assistance of the gaolers, and the Clerk of Arraigns (Mr Coleridge), who exhibited much emotion, put the formal question as whether she had anything to say as to why she should not die, according law.
The prisoner upon hearing this screamed in the most agonizing manner, and threw herself upon the floor the dock. She was held upon her feet by the gaolers and surgeon (Dr. Browne), and the Judge, having assumed the black cap, said: “Fanny Goldby, you have been found guilty of the crime of wilful murder. The jury recommended you to the mercy of the Crown, and that recommendation shall be conveyed to the Secretary of State, but I am bound say there is little except your youth to justify that recommendation, for it was a cruel murder of an unoffending child. There is but one sentence for this crime, and it is that you taken hence to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, and there hanged by the neck till you are dead and your body buried within the precincts of the gaol. May the Lord have mercy your soul.” The prisoner uttered several loud screams during the sentence, and was removed from the dock in a fainting condition.”
An application for clemency was sent to the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, and Fanny was spared the death sentence, but was sentenced to penal servitude for life.
The sorry affair raises several questions that remain unanswered. Firstly, why was Fanny calling herself Goldby? She may have assumed the name when she fled to Birmingham, but one would have thought that the authorities would have insisted she revert to her maiden name during the legal process. Secondly, if Daisy was killed intentionally, what was Fanny’s motive? She had every reason to believe that Joseph Hewitt would continue his support for his daughter, and up until the fateful day there was every sign that the baby was loved and looked after – Fanny had even taken Daisy to the vaccination clinic. Thirdly, where did the baby die? It seems improbable that the two women would have carried a corpse all the way to Warwick and beyond, but for a normal baby to be silent for the duration of the six mile walk, and then still show no signs of life while the women had lunch in the pub is, at the very least, strange.
As to what became of the people in this story, we know that in 1891, Fanny was in the female prison at Knaphill near Woking, After that, apart from one mention, she goes off the radar. The Dodd family were still in Moreton Morrell
in 1901, but not in 1911. In 1901, the Hewitts still kept the shop in Stoneleigh, but Joseph had left home, destination unknown.