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THE KING STREET SHOOTING . . . A Leamington murder in 1921 (2)

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SO FAR: It is late afternoon on Thursday 19th March, 1921. Motor mechanic Frederick Pugh (47) has spent most of the day drinking in various Leamington pubs, and he has returned to the house he shares with his wife, Constance Ethel Pugh, at 50 King Street. Rows between the two are frequent and always noisy. The next door neighbour has come to remonstrate with Pugh, who is now outside the house. Pugh complains that his wife is always nagging him and goes back indoors.

The neighbour, Thomas Mills, returns to his own house, but then hears two loud bangs. He goes to look through the window of number 50, and seeing Mrs Pugh lying on the floor, runs into the town until he finds a policeman, Police Sergeant Pearson, who was on duty where Regent Street crosses The Parade.

Pearson was later to give this evidence:

“I was on duty on the Parade at the Regent Street crossing when Mills called me. Upon arriving at 50, King Street, I knocked at the back door, but received no reply. Looking through the kitchen window I saw a revolver lying in front the fire. I knocked again, but there was still response, so I decided to break in. Upon  opening the door, Pugh put his face round the door and looked at me. His face was badly injured and covered with blood, and he was staggering about. I took hold of him and said ” What’s the matter? “

I assisted the man to the kitchen and laid him on the floor, having first taken charge of the revolver. Two chambers had been fired, and one had missed fire. One of the spent cartridges had been struck twice. When I loosened Pugh’s collar, the man said ” Let me get up,’’

After calling a doctor, I examined the house. The woman was lying on her back with her head under the sink, and she was quite dead, with blood-marks on the right side of the face. The appearances were that the shots had been fired at close range. The condition of the room did not suggest a struggle. The woman had been washing, and the utensils were in their correct position. By this time Pugh had become unconscious and upon following up my examination I found bloodmarks on the stairs and on the pillow on the bed.”

Constance Pugh was beyond mortal help, and her body was removed to the mortuary, but Frederick Pugh was rushed to the Warneford Hospital.

On the following Tuesday the inquest into Constance Pugh’s death was opened, and the sad state of the Pughs’ marriage was laid bare. This report is from The Leamington Courier:

“The first witness called was Mrs. J. H. Cooke, sister of Mrs. Pugh, who said that deceased was Pugh’s second wife. Pugh served during the war.
The Coroner: ‘Did you know the conditions under which they lived?’
Witness: ‘They were’nt very happy’
‘Did your sister’s husband ill-treat her and keep the children short of food?’
‘Yes, he had an abnormal temper.’
Witness proceeded to say that one day last week she had a conversation with her sister relative to Pugh and deceased then said that her husband had threatened to “do her and the children in.”
He had said this many times that they did not take him seriously.
The Coroner: ‘On this particular occasion had he used the expression because she had asked for food for the house?
‘Yes.’
Mrs. Cooke said that one of the sons lived at Luton, Pugh’s native town, and a daughter was in a home in London.
Foreman (Mr. R. E. Moore); ‘Was Pugh usually sober when he made these threats?’
Witness: ‘I was not there whenhe  used them, but my sister said he had taken to drink again.’
‘You didn’t know much about the man himself?’ asked the Coroner.
“I simply hated him!” exclaimed the witness in reply.
The Foreman : Did you know that Pugh kept firearms in the house?
‘No, I shouldn’t have gone there had I known that he did.’
Mrs. Ada Key, another witness, living at 19 Plymouth Place, said the deceased had often complained of her husband’s treatment of her. and alleged that he kept the children short of food. He had a very bad temper. ‘My sister to come down to my house to get something to eat,’ continued the witness, ‘for she couldn’t get enough for the children at home.”
The Coroner: ‘You knew by her actions that she was not being supported properly at home?’
Witness: ‘Yes.’
‘Did she ever complain her husband drinking?’ asked the Coroner.
At this point the witness broke down, and the Coroner did not press his questions. “

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Mr. E. F. Hadow (Coroner for Mid-Warwickshire) did eventually reconvene the inquest, but his optimism that Frederick Pugh would be able to attend to account for his crime was unfounded. Pugh eventually died, still in hospital, on Friday 2oth May. There only remained the technicality of deciding if Pugh was in his right mind when he shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself.

Last word

Warneford_Hospital,_Leamington_Spa

PughAs with many of these stories, there are always the children who become victims of adult misdeeds. The Pughs had two children. In the census which was held in the summer of 1921, an Arthur Frederick Pugh, born in 1920 and listed as grandson, was living in Leamington in a house, the head of which was Edith Jones, born in Bishops Itchington, and almost certainly Constance Pugh’s mother. Sadly, the next time we hear of Arthur Frederick Pugh it is as a casualty in WWII. His body lies in Madras War Cemetery. Arthur was a cook in the Army Catering Corps. He was working at a military hospital in Burma. While walking around the hospital grounds he was shot by a sniper in a tree and killed on 28th April 1945 just two weeks before the end of the war. Thanks to Julie Pollard (a relative) for this information.

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The older child, Tessa Vernie Yvonne Pugh (thanks again to Julie Pollard) was born in 1913. She was brought up by Constance’s brother Leonard. Records show that she married a man called Felix Jackson at Stratford in 1939. The 1939 register shows them living at 128 Tavern Lane Stratford.  She died in 1973, her husband having passed away two years earlier.

Was Frederick Pugh driven to commit murder by some awful residual damage he had incurred during the Great War? One newspaper report suggests that he had come home “with a piece of bullet lodged in his head.” He would not have been the only man damaged by the horrors of 1914 – 18, but we shall never know. The only certainty is that a fatal combination of anger and drink – and possibly war trauma – cost two people their lives on that March afternoon.

THE KING STREET SHOOTING . . . A Leamington murder in 1921 (1)

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Thursday 19th March 1921. Leamington Spa. On this chilly spring day, those who read the newspapers could follow the ongoing unrest in Ireland while, even further away, the conflict between the ‘Red’ and ‘White’ armies in Russia was generating even more bloodshed. Much closer to home, in King Street, neighbours of Mr and Mrs Pugh at No. 50, were to have their own share of gunfire and bloodshed.

Constance Pugh (née Jones, a woman from Bishops Itchington) had married Frederick Pugh in 1910. The 1911 census has them living in Moss Street, a little cul-de-sac off Althorpe Sreet. There is little there today that they would have known except the railway arches on its south side. According to newspaper reports that Pugh (who in the 1911 census had given his age as 31. and his place of birth as Cardiff) had ‘done his bit’ in The Great War, serving as a sergeant with the Leicestershire Regiment, but had been invalided out with injuries caused by a a gas attack. In 1921, they were living in King Street, at No. 50. They had two young children, and Pugh had recently started a car mechanics business.

The Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph of 15th March 1921 tells us that Frederick Pugh was the son of Mr and Mrs William Pugh of Luton. They had a large family scattered across the Luton area, but Frederick had left “about fifteen years ago.” He had left his first wife “who was a Perry” and two children and moved to Leamington, but volunteered for the army in 1914. His first wife died in Bute Hospital, Luton, below, of “a serious illness” in 1915. The Pughs had two children. In 1921 the boy was working at a cinema in Luton, while the girl was living with an aunt in London.

Bute_Hospital,_Luton

Back in Leamington, it is clear that Pugh’s marriage to Constance was in poor shape. They argued and fought so noisily that neighbours were often minded to intervene, if only to bring about a few moments of peace and quiet. King Street, back in the day was rather different from what it is today. Here is a ‘then and now’ video showing how it has changed. The ‘then’ image (courtesy of Our Warwickshire) comes from before The Great War but, apart from the clothes of the people in the picture, little would have changed by 1921.

Despite – or perhaps because of – having his own business to run, Frederick Pugh could go for a daytime drink whenever he felt like it. That Thursday he had been to The Warwick Arms in Regent Street before lunch, and then moved on to The Greyhound in Lansdowne Street. From there he went to the Ex-Servicemen’s Club in Beachamp Square, where he had another couple of pints. His final port of call was The Fox and Vivian, after which he walked the few hundred yards home to King Street. His two young children were apparently playing in the street outside the house. He arrived home just after 2.00pm. This evidence was later given by Mr Thomas, a provision dealer, who lived next to the Pughs at No. 52. The report is from the Leamington Courier.

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 IN PART TWO:
A TERRIBLE DISCOVERY
& THE GRIM REAPER HAS THE LAST WORD

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)

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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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