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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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TRUE CRIME STORIES, CLICK HERE.

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

THE ST MICHAEL’S ROAD MURDER . . . The madness of a daughter (part 2)

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Louth. February 1950. Gladys Hirschberg is living with her mother Alice Wright at 32 St Michael’s Road (below). 55 year-old Gladys has had an eventful life. She married a soldier, Victor King, in 1916, was widowed the next year, and then went to Rhodesia with a new husband, and took his name, von Hirschberg. Gladys returned to England at the beginning of World War Two and served with the ATS. After a brief return to Rhodesia, she came back to Louth in 1946.

32 St Michaels

On the morning of Sunday 19th February, Mrs Lena Gibson who was a neighbour of Gladys and her mother answered a frantic knocking on her door to find Gladys, shaking and white faced. Gladys said to Lena:
You had better come and see. I have killed my mother. I hit her on the head with a hammer.”
Entering No.32, Lena was horrified to see Alice Wright unconscious on the sofa, with a dreadful head wound.

Todd

An ambulance was summoned and the police came and took Gladys into custody, She was formally charged with attempting to kill her mother. The senior officer who read the charge was none other than Superintendent George Todd (above), Gladys Hirschberg’s co-star in the Louth Playgoer’s production of The Winslow Boy in April the previous year.

Alice Wright never recovered consciousness and died two days later, so when Gladys Hirschberg appeared at Louth Magistrates Court on 21st February, the charge was murder. After another hearing on 11th March, Gladys was committed for trial at Lincoln Assizes in June.

It seems that Gladys was in such a bad way
that she was sent to Winson Green prison in Birmingham, because it had a secure mental unit, and it was from there that she came to trial at Lincoln on Tuesday 6th June. The presiding judge was George Lynskey.

This is the newspaper report of proceedings:

In court she wore a black coat and a grey jumper. She looked pale but seemed composed. She pleaded not guilty in a clear voice. While the Jury was sworn in she stood with bowed head and downcast eyes between two women prison officers. The courtroom was crowded, the majority there being women.

Hirschberg was defended by Mr. R. C. Vaughan. K.C.. and Mr. W. K Carter. Mr S.L.Elborne, prosecuting, said that Hirschberg had been living in Rodesia and had returned to England to look after her mother. Later, after living at home and then working in London, she had an offer of another job in Rhodesia, and her mother was going with her. The home and furniture were to be sold. Mrs Wright was over 80, and apparently the accused thought she was doing right by moving her to Rhodesia.

Hirschberg then became more troubled about the situation, and February 19th she told a neighbour that she had hit her mother on the head with a hammer and had killed her. Mrs Wright was found with severe head injuries and died later in hospital.

The neighbour, Lena Marjorie Gibson said Hirschberg had worried about taking her mother to Rhodesia and felt she was taking away her security by selling the house. Hirschberg had been widowed in the first war, married a Belgian and had said this marriage was unhappy. She had sought refuge in Army work during the war and became a junior commander in the ATS.

Mrs. Gibson described how Hirschberg became more worried, had financial worries when her husband stopped her allowance, and felt she was a failure and her life futile.

She had fits of depression and on one occasion was seen crouching in an animal attitude with staring eyes and twitching face.

“I was afraid she was no longer sane.” said Mrs. Gibson. She had also said herself she felt her mind was going. In statements to the police Hirschberg was alleged to have said that her mental state made her want to escape from her responsibilities. She tried to gas herself, and then decided it would be best if they both “went out” because some aspects of her life had been a failure.


“Quite suddenly a cloud came over me and 1 felt I must end it all for both,” Something in her brain told her she must do it but only part of her knew what she was doing with the hammer. She had hit herself on the head with the hammer. The last few weeks had been a terrible effort as if her hands and brain had not co-operated without terrific effort.

Clipping

Called for the defence, Dr J Humphreys of Birmingham prison said Hirschberg considered herself a failure in her job in London and had a feeling of guilt that her friends were having to do things for her mother which she felt she should have been doing. She was suffering from an acute sense of chronic depression which was a mental disease. While in prison,said the doctor, Hirschberg swallowed five needles because she said she wanted to suffer physical pain instead of the anguish she was feeling.

She had told him she was an outcast and dare not approach God in prayer – which was born out by the fact that she refused to go to the prison chapel or see the chaplain.

When she committed the act she would not know that what she was doing was wrong. Evidence that she was suffering from a mental disease was also given by Dr. M. Sim, a psychiatrist at a Birmingham hospital.


The prosecution didn’t challenge the assertion that Gladys Hirschberg did murder her mother whie insane, and she was sentenced to be detained “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.”

There is a poignant postscript to this sad tale. A few years later, Messrs Falkner & Co, Solicitors, of 17 Cornmarket, Louth acted for Gladys Hirschberg as she applied to change her surname to King. This was of, course, in remembrance of Victor Algernon Robert King, her young husband who had perished in Flanders thirty seven years earlier. In this legal claim, her address was given as Crowthorne, Berkshire, which is home to the secure mental hospital known as Broadmoor.

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THE ST MICHAEL’S ROAD MURDER . . . The madness of a daughter (part 1)

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Gladys Wright was born in Louth in 1894. Her father, Edward Wright was a schoolmaster, and the census of 1911 has the family living at Egmont – No. 4 South Street, Louth. Edward Wright went on to become Headmaster of St Michael’s School, where his wife Alice also taught.

Wright census
In December1916, Gladys married a young man named Victor King, in Richmond, Surrey. Their marriage was to be short lived, however. Victor was Second Lieutenant in The Machine Gun Corps, and on 29th September, he was killed during the Third Battle of Ypres, better known perhaps as the Battle of Paschendaele. His name is one of 34,000 others inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, which indicates that if he was given a battlefield burial, his grave was later lost. A grimmer option is that his body was simply destroyed by shellfire.

Like so many other young widows, Gladys had the rest of her life to live, and at some point between the end of the Great War and the beginning of World War Two, she met and married a man called von Hirschberg. It seems that they tried to begin a new life in what was then Rhodesia, where the von Hirschberg family had lived for decades. Whatever happened to the marriage was never recorded publicly, but by World War Two, Gladys was back in England and serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service – the ATS – a volunteer unit for women. After the war, the ATS became the WRAC, but Gladys chose not to continue with service life and, after another brief spell in Rhodesia, returned to Louth to live with her widowed mother Alice in her house in St Michael’s Road.

Gladys, now in her 50s, was a keen amateur actress and a member of the Louth Playgoers group. The only surviving photograph of her dates from 1949, when she played the role of Mrs Winslow in Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play, The Winslow Boy. One of the strange ironies of this story is that the gentleman playing Mr Winslow in the play was George Todd. When he wasn’t learning his lines, Todd was better known as Superintendent Todd of Louth police. He and his co-star were to meet again a year later in rather different circumstances.

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Part two of this story will go live at 6.00pm on Sunday 21st February

THE MADNESS OF GEORGE TIMMS . . . Part One

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Screen Shot 2021-01-01 at 21.36.11A lifetime ago, when I was a pupil (remember that word? These days they are ‘students’ or ‘learners’) at Warwick School, I remember a gentleman coming to speak to us in the assembly hall we knew as Big School. He was Mr Guy Nelson, and we knew nothing of him, but it transpires he was the current head of a family which had been a major industrial presence in Warwick for generations. The Nelsons had a variety of interests, including gelatine manufacture and meat shipping, but the time we were assembled to listen to him, the firm had been absorbed by bigger competitors.

What the Nelsons stood for, however, was rather special. They were enlightened employers who took a philanthropic view of the relationship between worker and master. They built houses and social clubs for their workforce and, for some time, the area around their factory in Emscote was known as Nelson’s Village. Central to this was Charles Street, and this is where we come to the True Crime aspect of this feature.

At a few minutes past one o’clock in the morning, on 19th January 1888, Police Constable Salt was stamping his feet and trying to keep warm as he stood on duty at the far end of Smith Street, Warwick. The silence of the night was broken by a man’s voice in the near distance, shouting and calling out.  Walking towards the disturbance, Salt shone his bulls-eye lantern into the dimly lit street, and he saw a figure come staggering towards him, lurching from one side of the road to the other, still shouting and moaning incomprehensibly.

With his free hand, Salt caught hold of the distressed man, and immediately noticed that his hands seem to be covered in blood. In a hoarse voice, the man cried out:

“I’ve murdered my wife; the Devil has tempted me to do it.”
“Where do you live?” asked Salt, but received no answer.
“Have you been home?” At this, the man replied,
“Yes – I’ve been to bed and got up again.”

A man called Henry Harris, who was the night-watchman at the nearby fire station, attracted by the fracas, joined the pair, and between them, he and PC Salt managed to march the man to the police station, which then stood at the top end of Northgate Street. manning the front desk was Police Constable Lewis. Salt informed Lewis what the man had told him, and Lewis asked for his name:

“My name is George Timms. I live at No. 1 Charles Street and, yes, I have murdered my wife. You will find her there. I have left the back door open.”

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From here, the pace of events quickened. The two constables, realising that this was something way above their pay grade, wasted little time in summoning the help of their senior officers. Dr. Guthrie Rankin of 23 Jury Street was called to the scene. What he found was later reported in the press as follows:

“On going into the bedroom he saw the woman lying on the bed, halfway across, and quite dead. Her face was lying in a pool blood. There was no evidence that any struggle had taken place. From a superficial examination, he found some wounds on the back of the scalp, from which the blood had evidently come. Death had only recently taken place. He made a post mortem examination some hours later. There were four scalp wounds, one of them very large, and the bone underlying the wounds was fractured in several places. Two the fractures penetrated to the brain. There was a large bruise over the back of the neck, and the back of the left shoulder was also discoloured. All these wounds were, undoubtedly, such as might be caused by blows from a brick.”

In Part Two of The Madness of George Timms
A FUNERAL
WARWICK ASSIZES
A NEW CAREER AS A SHOEMAKER

A LOUTH TRAGEDY . . . Part Two

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Heneage copyTHE STORY SO FAR … It is July 1927, and we are in the quiet market town of Louth in the Lincolnshire Wolds. King George V has his head on the stamps and coins, Stanley Baldwin is the Conservative Prime Minister, while in parliament, Sir Arthur Pelham Heneage (left) represents Louth. All is not quiet however in a wooden bungalow close to the level crossing on Stewton Lane. The body of Minnie Eleanor Kirby has been discovered lying on the floor of one of the rooms. She has been dead for some hours, and the cause of death is clearly a massive wound to the base of her skull.

Inspector Davies of Lincolnshire Constabulary, alerted by Mrs Kirby’s worried son Harry, has forced an entry into the bungalow and made the grisly discovery. A few feet away from the lifeless body of Minnie Kirby is a large axe, bloodstained, and which would later be identified by the pathologist as exactly fitting the fatal wound. Suspicion immediately falls on Minnie Kirby’s husband Bertram, and while the poor woman’s corpse is removed to the mortuary for further investigation, the police begin their search for him. It was not to be a long or difficult manhunt. The White Horse Inn was one of several pubs that Kirby was known to frequent, and on the evening of Tuesday 12th July, PC Morris and Inspector Davies found Kirby engrossed in a game of dominoes. After being informed that he was to be arrested, he is reported to have said:

“All right. I am going to be fair with you. I am not going to cause any trouble. My God, boy, you don’t know how things are! I hope you never will. You don’t know what I had to put up with.”

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Kirby “came quietly” and was taken to the police cells. He was initially remanded until the forthcoming Saturday, 16th July. He was brought before the magistrates, and was remanded again to allow the police to prepare a case to put to the public prosecutor. Needless to say, the atmosphere in the town was described as “electric” by one feverish reporter, who went on to write:

Toen hall“A big crowd assembled outside the Town Hall in an endeavour to catch a glimpse of the prisoner, but the proceedings took place at the Superintendent’s office at the County Police Station in another part of the town.

Here, in a small room, before Mr Mark Smith and Mr W. C Street, with only the Clerk (Mr H. E. Roberts), Supt. C. Skinner, Inspector Davies and members of the press, Kirby was brought in. He trembled violently, his eyes had a vacant stare and he had to be supported by two police officers.

The prisoner is of stout build, with greyish hair and he wore no collar, his shirt being open at the neck. He was represented by Mr R. H. Helmer, of the well-known Louth firm of solicitors, Allison and Helmer.”

Part of the dossier being prepared for the prosecutor was a number of letters Kirby had written, and which were found in the bungalow and in his possession when arrested. They suggested a man at the end of his tether, preparing to enter into some kind of a pact with his wife. One passage read:

“My wife is my greatest pride in life. . . We have realised our financial state affairs, and come to the conclusion that death is the only way out of them. Please bury darling Minnie and myself together. We have loved one another.”

He went on to write:

HEADLINE 5“I have fell across very hard times. My darling wife, who has been my greatest pal in life, has realised this fact as well. God bless her. No-one could wish for a better wife , mother or comforter than her. We have realised our financial state of affairs, and come to the conclusion that death is the only way out of the matter. I left the railway in order, as I thought, to better myself, and this failed. Eventually I found myself stranded with writs, etc, and we had nothing to eat at home.”

“I therefore volunteered to go away with the idea of obtaining work, but to no avail. After this, I walked from Louth to Boston. Here I say God bless my wife. God bless her. No man, whoever he was could possibly find a better wife than I have had. Anyhow, here is a point I wish the Coroner to take up, and when I say this I mean it to be published and not doctored, because it is absolutely the truth.”


He appeared to be passionately devoted to his youngest son, Norman:

“How pleased we are to hear you are little Norman. God bless him- how I love this little bairn – I am heartbroken. Will you ask my Auntie Julia- her name is under Mrs F Pocklington, “Eversleigh”, Carlton Road, Boston – to take during her lifetime my darling boy Norman. My Auntie Julia is the only relative he loves. He always wishes to see his Auntie Julia. Further, I wish to say my Auntie Julia and Uncle Fred have been my best friends throughout all my life – God bless them both. They have been the only faithful friends we have had through life. Please bury darling Minnie and myself together.. We have loved one another. Poor little Ralph out in Canada, and poor little Norman and Harry. Oh! he has been a good boy. God bless them all – Minnie, Harry, Ralph and Norman. God bless them all and Auntie Julia and Fred.”

This wish that Norman would be fostered by the Pocklingtons is rather odd, because they were both elderly. Indeed, Mrs Pocklington’s “lifetime” would not extend much beyond the murder, as she died two years later. It must have been immediately obvious to the town solicitor representing Kirby – and, later, to his defence barrister at Lincoln Assizes – that the only way Kirby would escape with his life from this tragedy was for his representatives to plead that he was insane.

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In Part Three
THE EVENTS OF 10th and 11th JULY REVEALED IN COURT
INSANE OR WICKED?
A DATE WITH ALBERT PIERREPOINT

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