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MURDER COMES TO LADBROKE (2) . . . True crime from 1926

Ladbroke header

Cinema

CecilSO FAR – On January 13th 1926, Milly Crabtree, 25 year-old wife of Cecl Crabtree, is found battered to death at their home, Manor Farm in Ladbroke. 19 year-old George Sharpes is arrested for her murder. As is the way with these, things, the wheels of justice turn very slowly, and it was February before Sharpes came to face magistrates in Southam. The courtroom, normally used as a cinema (pictured above), was packed, and the onlookers were spellbound as a confession from George Sharpes was read to the court.

I, George Sharpes, here wish to state how and why I murdered the deceased Mrs. Crabtree. On Wednesday morning, January 13th, the day I committed the crime, I went to work in the house about 9 a.m. The job I was doing was scraping paint off a skirting board. While I was sitting doing work, a thought entered my head to kill the deceased. Several ways entered my head, how to kill her, but in my mind I did not think these ways would have been successful So I let this thought keep on worrying me until dinner-time. When I went home it seemed to out of my mind all together.

When I came back in the afternoon the same thought came to me. This time I was working with a hammer, drawing nails out of the window. Then I came to a big nail just above the window and near to the door, the one which is opposite the front room door. Meanwhile the deceased had been past me on two occasions. The third time as she was coming past me I struck her on the side of the head and she fell down in the passage. Here I struck her again, and then I dragged her into the front room. When I came out I saw some blood on the floor, I took off my cap, cleaned up the mess, and threw my cap in the fire grate in the dining room. Then I went into the front room, and struck her again.

I seized pair of pyjamas and wrapped them round her head to stop her noise. The next thought that came to me was to do away with myself, so I went to look for a knife or a razor. As I was going through, the dining room, I passed the cowman’s daughter and she noticed that there was blood on hands. Then I went to Mr. Crabtree’s bench and there I found a knife. I then went upstairs and cut my throat. Even this did not kill me, so I tried again. Seeing this did not do it, I looked everywhere for a razor, but it was of no avail. As I was walking round I noticed a bottle labelled Camphorated Oil, Poison. I drank some of this, thinking it would bring me to a quick end. This made me feel faint, so I went back into Mr Crabtree’s bedroom. I knew that someone would find me, so I lay there.

This bizarre statement continued with what appeared to be a motive for the attack:

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MotherThe magistrates wasted little time in stating that George Sharpes had a serious case to answer, and the case was moved on to be examined at the March Assizes in Warwick. The case was presided over by Mr Justice Shearman. The only possible line for the defence to take was that Sharpes was insane at the time at the time he committed the murder, and Sharpes’s mother was produced to state that her son had suffered an unfortunate childhood. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, however. Rejecting the claims that George Sharpes was insane, the judge donned the black cap and sentenced him to death. The execution was fixed for April and, as was almost always the case, a petition was set up to ask for clemency. The case was taken to appeal, in front of Lord Chief Justice Avory, who was perhaps not the most welcome choice for Sharpes’s defence team. Avory, a notorious “hanging judge”, had been memorably described:
“Thin-lipped, cold, utterly unemotional, silent, and humourless, and relentless towards lying witnesses and brutal criminals”.

Final words

Avory dismissed the appeal, and George Sharpes, just turned 20 years od age, was hanged in Winson Green prison on 13th April 1926. The hangman was William Willis, assisted by Robert Baxter. As was customary, Sharpes was interred in the graveyard inside Winson Green prison. His burial plot was unmarked, but the location was recorded in prison records. As for his victim, she lies, one hopes at peace,  in a quiet corner of Ladbroke churchyard. Thanks to Maggy Smith for the photos.

Milly grave

MURDER COMES TO LADBROKE (1) . . . true crime from 1926

Ladbroke header

Screen Shot 2021-12-12 at 18.11.45Manor Farm in Ladbroke dates back, according to the data on British Listed Buildings, to the mid 18th century. For architectural historians, it adds:

Squared coursed lias with quoins and coped gables. Slate roof with brick end stacks. L-shaped plan. 2 storeys plus attic; 3-window range of C20 three-light casements in original openings with stone flat arches to ground floor. C20 door with stone flat arch. 2 gabled dormers. C20 one-storey lean-to to left. Interior: noted as having stop-chamfered spine beams and large open fireplace, refaced C19. C18 central staircase with turned balusters.

In September 1925, the farm had been bought by Cecil Crabtree and his wife, Milly Illngworth Crabtree, (neé Fawcett). The couple had married in 1923 in Halifax, and had a son, Brian, aged eighteen months and a daughter, Betty, just six months old.

Crabtree was clearly a man with ambitions, and also had farming interests at Burton Farm, Neston, Cheshire. When the family moved down to Ladbroke, a young man called George Sharpes accompanied them as stockman. It appears that Cecil Crabtree had taken on Sharpes in a spirit of benevolence, as the the young man had, for four years, been an inmate of the Farm Training Colony, a reformatory for boys at Newton-le-Willows, and was considered to be “a wrong ‘un”. Sharpes’s parents lived in Crewe, where his father was a railway worker.

A young girl called Kathleen Coleman, aged 10, lived in one of the farm cottages with her mother and father – who worked for Mr Crabtree. Kathleen often helped out in the house, and on the afternoon of 13th January 1926, she made a chilling discovery. She went upstairs to Mrs Crabtree’s room, as one of the babies was crying. She told the inquest:

” I saw George lying on the bed with his throat all bleeding, and he told me to tell daddy to come. I ran and told father, who was in the cowshed.”

Her father, Sibert Pearson Coleman ran to the house, and saw George Sharpes, but was about to make another much more terrible discovery:

“His (George’s) throat was bleeding. I asked him what was the matter, and he said —’ Never mind me; go down to the missus. I have killed her.’ I ran down to the sitting-room, and found Mrs Crabtree lying dead in a pool of blood. She was bleeding from wounds in the face and the back of the head. I saw that she was past aid. One of the children was on the settee crying.”

Manor Farm

Inspector Cresswell, of Southam, was called to Manor Farm (above, as it was at the time) and when he arrived he found Mrs Crabtree lying on the floor of the sitting room, face downwards. There was a large quantity of blood near the head, and marks of blood on bureau, and also on the wall about five feet up. He found a hammer lying on the sofa, with blood and hair adhering to it. Seeing there was nothing he could do for Mrs Crabtree, the inspector returned to Sharpes, who was lying on the bed in Mrs Crabtree’s bedroom with a wound in his throat. There was a bloodstained shoemaker’s knife on the bed beside him. The wound was slight. There was towel and a suit of pyjamas wound round his head.

On seeing the Inspector, Sharpes muttered,“Let me die! Leave me alone, and let me die!”

The inspector called for a car and Sharpes was removed to the hospital in Leamington Spa, where he was detained. Cresswell said later that it seemed Mrs Crabtree’s skull was crushed in on the left side above and below the left ear.and probably done with one blow.

Cecil Crabtree was contacted and returned as fast as he could, in a state of understandable shock. There was little doubt who was responsible for his wife’s murder, and once the inquest had been comcluded, she was buried in Ladbroke churchyard on a snowy winter afternoon. The report in The Rugby Advertiser of Friday 22nd January was heartfelt:

Funeral report

Milly

IN PART TWO – Trial, motive – and justice

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