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THE OXFORD STREET ATROCITY . . . Murder most foul in Leamington, 1907 (part two)

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SO FAR: On the night of Saturday 3rd March 1907, In a drink-fueled fit of rage, 33 year-old Edwin James Moore has set his mother on fire at their home, 13 Oxford Street. She is pronounced dead at the scene.

While the doctor, police, neighbours and the other members of the Moore family crowded into 13 Oxford Street, what had become of the central character in this drama, Edwin James Moore? With skin hanging from his hands and arms after trying – and failing – to extinguish the flames that killed his mother, he was taken by one of the neighbours to a nearby chemist to have his burns dressed, but it was clear the damage was severe, and he was taken to the Warneford Hospital, was treated further treated for his wounds and kept in overnight.

In the drama of the moment, the cries of young Bertie Moore (“Help! Murder!”) had been temporarily disregarded, and it was assumed that there had been a terrible accident, but when the proverbial dust settled and Police Sergeant Rainbow spoke to the distressed child, it was clear that Fanny Moore’s death was something other than a misfortune. On the Sunday morning, Rainbow visited Edwin Moore in hospital, and put it to him that he had killed his mother. Moore replied, indignantly:

“No, never. I tried to put out the fire and burnt my coat in doing it.”

Despite his denial, Moore was arrested and appeared before Leamington magistrates, where he continued to deny that he had caused his mother’s death. The magistrates were unconvinced, and sent him to be tried at the next Warwick Assizes on a charge of wilful murder. Meanwhile, the Moore family had a final melancholy duty to perform.

Funeral

The County Assizes were a major civic event. The Great and the Good put on their best finery to celebrate this most emphatic and visible reminder to the common folk that British justice was a solemn affair, and those who fell foul of it were in a very dark place indeed. The local paper reported:

WARWICKSHIRE WINTER ASSIZES. The Warwickshire Winter Assizes were opened at the Shire Hall, Warwick, Friday morning, before Mr. Justice Phillimore. His Lordship arrived in the town on Thursday afternoon, and was met by the High Sheriff (Sir William Jaffray) and the Sheriff’s Chaplain (the Rev. J. Thompson;. GRAND JURY: the following were sworn upon the Grand Jury : Lord Algernon Percy foreman), Mr. H. Lakin, Mr F. E. Muntz, Major F. Hood Gregory, Capt. F. Gerard, Mr. D. S. Greig, Mr. F. Stanger Leathes, Major H. Chesshyre Molyneus, Major Gibsone, Major Armstrong, Mr A. Kay,   Mr R. W. Lindsay, .Mr A. Sabin Smith, Mr. J. Booth, Mr. W. E. Everitt,  G Anson-Yeld, Mr. E. C. Gray-Hatherell, Mr. A. Batchelor, Mr. Savory, Mr. P. S. Danby, Mr. S. Flavel and Captain K. Oliver-Bellasis.” 

Judge

Percy, Lakin, Flavel – just three names that still resonate locally today, and several others who, if you Google them, remain clearly at the heart of the British establishment more than a century after they convened to decide the fate of Edwin James Moore. It is pointless to speculate whether a rough former soldier was ever going to get the benefit of the doubt after being accused of murdering the woman who brought him into the world and watched over him during his childhood. The jury system in 1907 was what it was. The trial was very brief, and on Monday 11th March Mr Justice Phillimore had little hesitation when he instructed the jury, who found Moore guilty of murder. Phillimore (left) donned the symbolic black cap, and sent Edwin James Moore back to his gloomy cell in Warwick Prison on Cape Road (below) to await the visit of the hangman.
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In an age when the wheels of justice turned extremely slowly, the downfall of Edwin James Moore was extremely swift. By my reckoning, the interval between that fateful Saturday night and his death  on the morning of 6th April, at the hands of (below, with newspaper report) John Ellis – whose day job was a newsagent and hairdresser in Rochdale – was just thirty-three days. To borrow the obligatory final words of the sentencing judge, “May God have mercy on his soul.”

The End

HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . A shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (3)

HIHS HEADER

SO FAR – Bessie Lockyer has been sentenced for committing murder while insane. She virtually decapitated her baby son with her husband’s cut-throat razor, and has been sent to Broadmoor. Normally, with these true crime cases, that is the end of the matter, and the killers invariably die in captivity, either by their own hand or other illnesses. Here, though we have something of a turn up for the books. I found a record listing a number of prisoners detained in mental institutions. There are four columns at the right hand side of the page, and they are headed Recovd. (recovered) Reld. (released) Not impd (?) and Died. Against Bessie Lockyer’s name there is written 4th September ’04, and a tick in the Recovd. column.

Broadmoor

‘Recovered’, just three years after murdering her baby? I thought there must be an error, but looked for the Lockyers in the 1911 census. Astonishingly, Bessie and Thomas were reunited and living at 6,Park Drive, Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Not only that, they had two young children, Stanley Walter Lockyer, aged 5 and born in Fulham, and Edward Norman Lockyer, aged 1 and born there in Ilkeston.

Ilkeston 1911
Redemption is not something often found in these stories, but it seems to have happened here. What became of the family after that is not so clear. There is a Bessie Lockyer recorded as dying in Spen Valley, Yorkshire in 1949 at the age of 74, and also a Stanley W Lockyer dying in the same district in 1968, at the age of 62. Both of these records fit what we know of the family. As for Thomas, there is little certainty about what happened to him. Searching the 1939 register proved fruitless.

All we can be thankful for is that Thomas and Bessie Lockyer had the chance to rebuild their lives together – and took it –  after that terrible morning in Holly Street, back in September 1901.

HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . A shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (2)

HIHS HEADER

Brighton CottageSO FAR – Thomas and Bessie Lockyer, a young couple originally from Bridport in Dorset, have settled in Leamington Spa, where Thomas is working as a reporter for The Leamington Chronicle. They live in a rented house in Holly Street, and have a six-months old son, Arnold Edward. It is Sunday morning, 1st September 1901. Thomas has gone to sing at the morning service at Spencer Street chapel. Bessie, in a state of extreme distress, has gone to her her next door neighbour, Mrs Wiggins, to tell her that she has harmed her baby. Mrs Wiggins can’t believe that Bessie has hurt Edward, but she goes with Bessie back to No. 17.

On the floor, in the back room of 17 Holly Street, was a large enamel basin. In the basin was the dead body of little Arnold Edward Lockyer. His head had been all but severed from his body. The horrified Mrs Wiggins immediately sent for the police, and found someone to go and summon Thomas Lockyer from his chapel service. Let The Leamington Spa Courier take up the story in its edition of Friday 6th September 1901, when it reported on the appearance of Bessie Lockyer at Leamington Magistrates’Court.

“About a quarter twelve he (Thomas Lockyer) was informed in chapel that was required at home. He went home fast as could. When got there he found his wife in the care of two ladies. They were Miss Wiggins and Mrs. Makins, as far as he could remember. His wife was in state of partial collapse, and having been informed of what had occurred did what he could to comfort his wife. She did not seem to realise what had happened. After some reflection, she seemed to have a dim recollection of what had taken plaoe. Dr. West arrived about the same time and jointly they put questions to the accused. She said she had injured the baby, and added she had cut it. She also drew attention to blood-stains on her right wrist.

Thomas Lockyer was so much upset that he hardly knew what he was asking her. The body of the child was afterwards removed by the police. Dr. West informed him that the baby’s head had been all but severed from the body, only a small quantity of flesh being untouched. P.C. Cope and P.C. Hobley were in the house when he came home. P.C. Hollands came up with him, having met him in Holly Walk. His wife was taken to the Police Station and charged.”

These two extracts, again from The Courier, make for painful reading, 120 years since they were first written. First, the evidence from the policeman who was called to the house.

PC Hobley

Then Dr. West addressed the court.

Dr West

When in police custody, Bessie Lockyer had made an extraordinary statement, which had been transcribed verbatim. It was read to the court.

Screen Shot 2021-09-22 at 18.59.38“Yes. I did it Why did I do it? I believe I was cutting the beans. I undressed him. I cut him there (pointing to her throat). I could not get on with my work. As regards my little baby, I cannot tell. I can look back; I cut him, Tom. What made do it Tom ? It was in a bowl. Yes, it was, Tom. It seemed as though I had pressure like a cap all round here (pointing to her head). Sometimes mother fidgetted me. Some times I cannot keep him clean, and you know we cannot pay. When the baby was born they wanted me to go to chapel. Now when I was going to Chapel at Bridport. I had such a pressure round my head. When I went to chapel father always took me. Why did he take me, Tom? Why didn’t he let me go alone?”

The magistrates had no other option but to indict Bessie Lockyer for murder, and sent her back to prison to await trial at the next Warwick Assizes. When that came round in December, the presiding judge was Mr Justice Bigham (right). Despite his forbidding appearance, he was not a monster and, recognising that at the time of the murder, Bessie Lockyer was insane, he judged that she was unfit to plead and ordered her to be confined “during His Majesty’s pleasure.” Bessie was sent to Broadmoor.

Court record

TO FOLLOW – the case takes a remarkable turn

HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . a shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (1)

HIHS HEADER

Bessie Farr was born at 92 West Street, Bridport, Dorset, in 1875. She was the seventh of the eight children of Edward and Jane Farr. The main industry in Bridport was making twine for fishing nets, and the 1881 census tells us that Edward Farr was the foreman at one of the mills. Not far away, in the village of Allington lived the Lockyer family, Thomas, Mary, and their three sons of which Thomas Alexander, the youngest, had been born in 1874. The 1891 census has Bessie, then 16 years-old, apprentice to a dressmaker while, Thomas, still with his family in Allington was training to be a journalist.

Bessie 1891

We know nothing of the courtship between Bessie and Thomas, but in April 1900 they were married in Bridport. By the following year they had moved far away from their Dorset home, and were living in the bustling Warwickshire town of Royal Leamington Spa, and they had a young son, Arnold Edward, born in February 1901. Thomas had served his apprenticeship and was now working as a full time journalist for The Leamington Chronicle. They rented a house, 17 Holly Street East, also known as Brighton Cottage. The 1901 census, taken on 1st April, also shows Bessie’s mother Mary as being in the house.

1901 census

Bessie, who had been a bright and lively young woman before the birth of their son, seems to be have suffering from some form of post-natal depression. She had tried to breastfeed the little boy, but had to resort to giving him artificial milk, which increased her anxiety thus, in turn, further diminishing the chances of her feeding him naturally. She had also become worried about keeping the house clean, and fretted constantly that there was insufficient money coming into the home to keep them all safe. She had taken the baby, with Thomas’s blessing for a holiday back in Dorset over the summer, and had returned, so it was thought, in brighter spirits.

MWA2401On the morning of 1st September, Thomas Lockyer left the house in Holly Street to walk the mile to the church where he sang in the choir – the Congregationalist Chapel in Spencer Street (left). At about 11.30, Mrs Alice Wiggins, the Lockyers’ next door neighbour at No. 16 was surprised to answer the door to a clearly upset Bessie Lockyer. The Leamington Spa Courier later reported:

“About half past eleven on Sunday morning Mrs. Lockyer came into her house. She knocked at the front door and then came through the house to. the back room, which was a kitchen, where Mrs Wiggins was was. She seemed excited and said,
Oh Wiggins I’ve hurt my baby.”
Mrs Wiggins replied “You could not have hurt him. In what way?
Mrs Lockyer said, ” I’ve cut him.
Mts Wiggins answered, “ I don’t think you would hurt him, but let’s go and and see.

Mrs Wiggins accompanied Bessie Lockyer to her house, and went into the back room. She could not see the child at first, and asked where it was. Bessie Lockyer pointed to the floor, and it was a sight that would haunt the neighbour for the rest of her life.

TO BE CONTINUED

DEATH ON A QUIET STREET . . . The killing of James Frederick Greatrex (2)

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SO FAR: James Greatrex had retired from his Walsall saddlery business a wealthy man, and in the summer of 1892, he was living in Moss Close, a large town house on Guys Cliffe Avenue, Leamington. His wife Mary had recently died, and her sister, Rebecca Ryder, now lived in Moss Close. William Ernest Greatrex, aged 37, was the younger son of the former businessman. He had been set up in numerous ventures by his father over the last twenty years or so, in places as far afield as New Zealand, Australia and Texas, but all had failed. Now, William Ernest Greatrex was living in St John’s Wood, London, but still – as it was revealed later – harassing his father for more money by way of an improved allowance.

James Greatrex and Rebecca Ryder were in the habit of taking a morning stroll provided the weather was clement. Tuesday 31st May 1892 dawned bright and warm, and a little after 11.25, the pair walked down Guys Cliffe Avenue towards Rugby Road. They crossed Rugby Road and as they walked alongside The Coventry Arms (now The Fat Pug) Mr Greatrex stopped and turned round, as Miss Ryder had lagged a few paces behind and was removing a stone from her shoe. As he asked how she was getting on, a gunshot rang out. Struck in the chest, Greatrex staggered, and as he did so he was shot again, this time in the back. He fell to the pavement, bleeding profusely. Rebecca Ryder screamed in horror at the assault and was astonished to see, nonchalantly holding a large revolver, William Ernest Greatrex. He had concealed himself beside the wall of a large house opposite The Coventry Arms and, as his father and companion approached, had stepped out and fired the shots from close range.

Dr-ThursfieldThe stricken man was carried to a nearby house and laid on a sofa. Dr  Thomas William Thursfield (left) was a well known local doctor and politician (he later became Mayor) and a bystander attracted to the scene by the sound of gunfire noticed that Dr Thursfield’s carriage was outside an adjacent house. He was quick to attend to Mr Greatrex, but there was nothing to be done. The inquest found that one of the bullets had passed through the victim’s heart.

A labourer who had been drinking in The Coventry Arms had seized William Greatrex after the shooting, but there had been no resistance, and when Constable Crowther and Sergeant Hemmings, who had been in the vicinity, arrived at the scene, Greatrex calmly handed over the weapon and said:

“It is all right, officer; here you are. “The second shot did it. I have got him ; it ought to have been done years ago.”

When he was charged with murder at Leamington Police Station later that day, Greatrex made a formal statement:

“I would like to make a clean breast of it. No one knows the treatment I have received from my father. I ought to have done it years ago. He drove me out of the country in 1884. I have been in America five years, and had fever and dysentery, and was very ill. I came back to this country, and have tried to make friends with him, and to know how I stood in his will. He has tried to drive me out of the country again. I have not been home since I came to my mother’s funeral. I have tried to get satisfaction in every way, but have failed. I stayed in Warwick last night, and came on this morning to have satisfaction. Now I have got it. I am sorry I did not have time to take a dose of prussic acid.”

Justice_Wright,_Vanity_Fair,_1891-06-27

Charles_Arthur_Russell,_Baron_Russell_of_Killowen_by_John_Singer_SargentAfter the formality of the local inquest and magistrates’ court appearances, William Ernest Greatrex appeared before Mr Justice Wright (above) at the August Assizes in Warwick. His legal team, headed by the distinguished QC Charles Arthur Russell (right) had but one job, and that was to establish that William Ernest Greatrex was insane at the time he shot his father dead. Russell did this after his people had conducted ruthless research into the mental stability of the male members of the Greatrex family, and so the barrister was able to make a convincing case, backed up by the medical officers of one or two large lunatic asylums. William Ernest Greatrex was found guilty but insane, and ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, and he was sent to Broadmoor.

Her Majesty’s pleasure in this sad case was not very prolonged. Records show that Greatrex died in December 1905, but even in death he was worth a tidy sum – in today’s money, over £170,000.

Broadmoor
Death
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DEATH ON A QUIET STREET . . . The killing of James Frederick Greatrex (1)

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The 1861 census has William Ernest Greatrex living with his family at 3 Victoria Terrace, Rushall, a district of Walsall. The house, below, along with its neighbour, No. 4, is a Grade II listed building which you can find more about here. William was born in the autumn of 1854, and the records tell us that was baptised at St Matthew’s Church on 27th December 1854. His father, James Frederick Greatrex, was the well-to-do owner of a family saddlery business in Adams Row Walsall. In all, James Greatrex and his wife Mary had five children – Robert Charles, Frederick James, and two daughters, Emily and Mary Augusta.

3Victoria


It seems that the family home – at least in regard to William – was not a happy place. At the age of seven he was sent to boarding school, in Kidderminater. This was one of the things he later levelled  his ” Mater.” He said, “The school was nasty, the food was bad, the bread and milk made me feel sick.” He complained that he was most unhappy there but his unhappiness was just dismissed as, “complaints of trifling annoyances such as are met with by school boys generally.

A newspaper reported:

He left Kidderminster about eleven years of age, and went a school at Brewood, where he remained about two years, and then went to Malvern College, where he had inflammation of the lungs. He states he was lost there in consequence of not having sufficient pocket money. He is under the impression that his parents put him to these schools to get rid of him, and that they were persecuting him at that period of his life. After he left school, at about 15 years of age, he was sent to Hastings and Torquay on account of his health, and, at about 18, he helped in his father’s business, at Walsall, his father making him a small allowance.”

This matter of money was to weigh heavily on William Greatrex for the rest of his life. What shouts to us from the printed page over a century after the tragic events of 1892 is that James Greatrex spent a small fortune on his son, and considered it money well spent to keep William at arm’s length.

William’s career in the decades after he left school is a catalogue of disasters, one after the other. After working for a while as a commercial traveller for the Greatrex firm, he was sent to Australia at the age of 23 on ‘a sales mission.’ From there he was asked to go to New Zealand, where opened his own business. This failed, and after a brief spell at home he was again sent abroad, this time to America, where he was given money to become a partner in a cattle ranch in 1884. It was reported that Greatrex senior had sunk £6000 into this venture. Using the Bank of England online calculator, I can report that this is somewhere in the region of £800,000 today. The ranching venture, like everything else the younger Greatrex had tried, failed dismally and, eventually, after a spell in Geneva in 1889, William Greatrex returned to England, where he rented rooms in London, and began a concerted campaign to persuade his father to give him “just one more chance.”

Moss Close new

By this time, James Greatrex had sold the business and retired to Guys’ Cliffe Avenue, a quiet street in Milverton, a district of Royal Leamington Spa. The house, known in those days as Moss Close, still stands, but has now been converted into flats (above). It is within a stone’s throw of this house that the next chapter of this drama will play out.

IN PART TWO – A fatal revenge and an investigation into insanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sten Gun

PART TWO will go live on Thursday 1st April

DEATH AT SANDOWN VILLA . . . True crime in Leamington Spa (3)

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PART THREE

So far …. 21 year old Maida Warner, from Stockton, has been arrested after a dead baby was found in the room she occupied at Sandown Villa, the home of Mr and Mrs Patterson, who employed Maida as a domestic servant. The bay was found with string tied tightly around its neck.

On 23rd June, at the second Coroner’s Inquest into the baby’s death, (the first was adjourned because Maida Warner was too ill to attend) the grandly named Mr. J. J. Willington Wilmshurst, spoke to a packed room in Leamington Police Station. This time, Maida Warner was present. The newspaper reported:

“The young woman, Maida Warner, who has been charged with the wilful murder of the child, was present, accompanied by a wardress from Warwick Gaol. She looked white and ill, and after the evidence of the first witness was obliged to retire for a few minutes.”

The jury heard medical evidence which was ambivalent about whether the baby was born alive. This was to be a key issue in the criminal proceedings which followed. The legal phrase was “separate existence”. In simple terms, if the baby had drawn breath, even for a few seconds after the umbilical cord had been cut then was deemed, by law, to have had a separate existence and, as such, was entitled to the protection of the law. Despite one of the doctors saying:

“It is my opinion that the child was healthy child, at, or near, full time, that it had lived and breathed freely. The cause of death was suffocation by strangulation, which might have been caused the cord round the infant’s neck. The child was alive when this constriction was put round it.”

But he then muddied the waters by saying:

“It is impossible to say that the child was wholly born, at the time it was done.”

Despite the confusion, the Coroner could only pass the case on up the legal ladder to the criminal courts. It was at this inquest, however, that another piece of evidence emerged which was to have an important bearing on the date of Maida Warner. Knowing that the young woman would not – whatever the outcome of the trial – be coming back to Sandown Villa, John Patterson had gone to clear up Maida’s room. He found a letter, torn up and thrown in the fire grate. It was signed, “Your dear little husband, S.B.C. – Warwick

Stockton was a small village, and it wouldn’t have taken a Sherlock Holmes to discover who S.B.C. was. In 1901 Sidney Cox had been living with his sister and their large family in a house on Napton ad, Stockton.
Sidney Cox

Probably very much against his wishes, he was produced as a defence witness when Maida was brought to trial at Warwick Assizes on July 28th, in front of Mr Justice Wills (left) By this time – and Maida must have had a very clever defence team – the charge had been reduced to that of concealing a death. The judge seemed to put great store by the presumption that Maida was fully prepared for – and happy with – the fact that she was about to give birth. Evidence for this was produced, in the form of newly purchased baby clothes found in Maida’s trunk. Sidney Cox had his moment in court as reported in the local newspaper:

“A young man named Sidney Cox was then called, and stated that he had been keeping company with the prisoner, and it was arranged that they should be married next month.

Judge; “Did you know that she was about to be confined?”
Cox,“No”
Judge, “Did you know what she intended to do?”
Cox,“No”
Judge, “Are you now prepared to marry her, and is it you intention of doing so at the earliest opportunity?”
Cox, “Yes.”

To cut a long story short, the Judge – despite the strange and unexplained matter of the string knotted round the baby’s neck, decided that Maida Warner was guilty of concealing a death, and sentenced her to twelve months hard labour. This story has a happy ending, after a fashion. In December 1906, the local news from Stockton column had this announcement:

Wedding

It is good to know that, whatever the truth of what happened on that fateful day at the end of May 1905, Maida went on to live her life in full. The last we see of her, at least in official records, is that in 1911 she was living with her husband in George Street, Stockton.

1911 census

For me, looking back at something which happened over a century ago, it is a curious case, and no mistake. What was the string doing around the baby’s neck? Was it something to do with a young woman giving birth on her own, and perhaps misguidedly remembering – as a country girl –  how calves were hauled from their mothers’ wombs with stout cord? Did the baby have “a separate existence”? We will never know. I believe there are Neals and Warners still living in and around Stockton to this day, and I hope that they will think that I have reported this strange episode with respect and fairness.

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