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SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN . . . A Warwickshire murder (part three)

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THE STORY SO FAR … Fanny Dodd and Joseph Hewitt, two “star-crossed lovers” if ever there were, had a brief relationship in the summer of 1886. The result? A baby girl named Daisy Hewitt Dodd. In April 1887, the body of a baby is found beside a stream. Arrests are made.

MachinThen, as now, criminal cases are first presented at Magistrates’ Courts. On Wednesday 11th May 1887, Charlotte Dodd and her daughter Fanny  appeared at Kenilworth Magistrates’ Court, charged with the wilful murder of Daisy Hewitt Dodd.  The presiding magistrate was Colonel John Machen (left), a distinguished local figure and a surgeon by profession.. His military rank was an honorary one, awarded for his prominent role in raising the 10th (Leamington) Warwickshire Rifle Corps in 1860, becoming its first Captain.

The hearing was a brief one because, for some reason, the court demanded a formal identification of the victim. Consequently, the court was adjourned and a submission sent to The Home Office requesting that the recently interred body of baby Dodd be exhumed. The request was granted, and the poor child had one last, pointless indignity inflicted on her. The next day, the coffin was brought from the ground and opened in the presence of PC Standley and the church sexton. The newspaper report makes for grim reading:

Exhumation

On 18th May, the adjourned hearing reopened, and a bizarre tale unfolded. On the morning of 26th April, Charlotte and Fanny Dodd, carrying baby Daisy, had set out from their Moreton Morrell home to walk to Warwick. They were accompanied for part of the way by an elderly neighbour, a Mrs Wincote. She was told that Fanny was taking the baby to Stoneleigh, where it would be looked after by its paternal grandmother, Mrs Hewitt. The party arrived in Warwick and went to sit in The Castle Arms, where they ate bread and cheese, and drank beer. Not long after they arrived, Fanny Dodds left with the baby, presumably heading for Stoneleigh, some five miles away.

The landlady of The Castle Arms, Elizabeth Hannah Butler, testified that Fanny Dodds returned later on that afternoon, holding a bundle of baby clothes, stating that the grandmother didn’t need them, as she had plenty of her own.

Justice_Wills_Vanity_Fair_25_June_1896The magistrates’ hearing, despite its length, was a formality. Colonel Machen decided that there was a case to answer, and the cavalcade moved on – to the Warwick Assizes to be held at the beginning of August. The presiding judge was Sir Alfred Wills, (right) a Birmingham man whose career defining moment was yet to come,as he would be the judge in the third trial of Oscar Wilde and when the writer was found guilty of gross indecency, Wills sentenced him to two years hard labour.

As was customary in those days, the names of the jurors were published in the press, and it is worth noting that among their number was Colonel Machen, who had been the magistrate when Charlotte and Fanny were first brought to court. The press report began in this fashion:
Prisoners pleaded not guilty. Mr Soden with Mr Keep conducted the prosecution, and the prisoners were defended by Mr Hugo Young, with whom was Mr Cartland. The Court was crowded and much interest was excited by the case. The younger prisoner, whose appearance is somewhat prepossessing, apparently felt her position keenly. Mr Soden, for the Crown, having given an outline the facts of the case, adduced the following evidence :”

Jury
The evidence was provided by the old lady who had walked into Warwick with Charlotte and Fanny on that fateful morning, the landlady of The Castle Arms, Joseph Hewitt and his father and, of course the police. The principle argument by the defence counsel was that Fanny, pausing at Wootton Court Bridge, had accidentally killed the baby by dropping it and had then panicked. Mr Young stated:

If that occurred  – and he submitted it was a most probable inference – it was only natural that the girl, with no one to advise her what do, should take means to hide the body, in order that she should not be charged with having intentionally killed the child. In the fear which was then upon her, it was a likely thing that she would take off its clothes so as not to leave any traces of identity. If it was her intention to have killed the child, he submitted that it would be improbable that she would go to Warwick, where she would be seen by many people, or that she would go far in the direction of Stoneleigh.

It was far more probable that she would have disposed of the body in another direction, without running the great risk of going to Warwick. After the occurrence he had described, the girl, upon getting home, told her mother all the had happened, and it was quite natural that the mother, in her endeavour to shield her daughter, would support her story.”

Another bizarre possibility was raised, and it was that Daisy had been killed in Moreton Morrell, and then carried into Warwick and on towards Leek Wootton. This was inferred from the fact that neither the old lady who accompanied them nor the pub landlady never once heard the baby cry or witnessed it being fed. The judge, in a lengthy summing up hinted that there was no evidence that Charlotte Dodd had done anything except cover up for Fanny which, as a mother, would be perfectly understandable. The Leamington Spa Courier reported the dramatic conclusion to the trial:

“The jury then retired their room, and were absent about half an hour. Upon their return into Court, and in answer to the usual question put the Clerk of Arraigns, the foreman said they found the younger prisoner, Fanny Goldby guilty, but strongly recommended her to mercy. They found the elder prisoner Dodd not guilty. The prisoner Goldby then stood with the assistance of the gaolers, and the Clerk of Arraigns (Mr Coleridge), who exhibited much emotion, put the formal question as whether she had anything to say as to why she should not die, according law.

The prisoner upon hearing this screamed in the most agonizing manner, and threw herself upon the floor the dock. She was held upon her feet by the gaolers and surgeon (Dr. Browne), and the Judge, having assumed the black cap, said: “Fanny Goldby, you have been found guilty of the crime of wilful murder. The jury recommended you to the mercy of the Crown, and that recommendation shall be conveyed to the Secretary of State, but I am bound say there is little except your youth to justify that recommendation, for it was a cruel murder of an unoffending child. There is but one sentence for this crime, and it is that you taken hence to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, and there hanged by the neck till you are dead and your body buried within the precincts of the gaol. May the Lord have mercy your soul.” The prisoner uttered several loud screams during the sentence, and was removed from the dock in a fainting condition.”

An application for clemency was sent to the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, and Fanny was spared the death sentence, but was sentenced to penal servitude for life.

AFTERMATH

The sorry affair raises several questions that remain unanswered. Firstly, why was Fanny calling herself Goldby? She may have assumed the name when she fled to Birmingham, but one would have thought that the authorities would have insisted she revert to her maiden name during the legal process. Secondly, if Daisy was killed intentionally, what was Fanny’s motive? She had every reason to believe that Joseph Hewitt would continue his support for his daughter, and up until the fateful day there was every sign that the baby was loved and looked after – Fanny had even taken Daisy to the vaccination clinic. Thirdly, where did the baby die? It seems improbable that the two women would have carried a corpse all the way to Warwick and beyond, but for a normal baby to be silent for the duration of the six mile walk, and then still show no signs of life while the women had lunch in the pub is, at the very least, strange.

As to what became of the people in this story, we know that in 1891, Fanny was in the female prison at Knaphill near Woking, After that, apart from one mention, she goes off the radar. The Dodd family were still in Moreton Morrell

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in 1901, but not in 1911. In 1901, the Hewitts still kept the shop in Stoneleigh, but Joseph had left home, destination unknown.

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SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN . . . A Warwickshire murder (part one)

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In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described the Warwickshire village of Moreton Morrell like this:

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The 1881 census records that living in a cottage on Morrell Farm in the village were the Dodd family.

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Just six years later, Charlotte Dodd and her daughter Fanny were to be the central figures in a murder case which shocked the country. Fanny Dodd was evidently something of a beauty. In the court case which decided her fate she was described thus:

“The younger prisoner, whose appearance is somewhat prepossessing….”

By 1886, Fanny had taken a very common career route for young women from poor backgrounds – she went into service. Wealthy families had servants, and the Trueloves of Stoneleigh – a village between Leamington and Coventry – were no exception, and Fanny was their domestic servant. Stoneleigh is the site of a Cistercian abbey, but it suffered the fate of so many similar institutions at the hands of Henry VIII. The Leigh family had acquired the site in 1558, and in the eighteenth century, a grand house was built on the site, and Benjamin Truelove was a tenant farmer of the current Lord Leigh.

Stoneleigh had a Co-operative Stores, and it was managed by William Hewitt. His son, Joseph, had learned the bakers’ art, and had a comfortable life in the family home. At some point in 1886 the 18 year-old lad had come into contact with Fanny Dodd, a couple of years older than he, and something of a beauty. Evidence given at Fanny’s trial suggests that on Whit Sunday  – 13th June – the pair had gone for a walk together, and somewhere near Pipe’s Mill – a water mill on the River Sowe – one thing had let to another, and the couple had, well, coupled (please feel free to substitute your favourite euphemism).

Getting pregnant was certainly not in the job description of domestic servants in Victorian times, so at some point later in 1886 Fanny returned to Morton Morrell. On 8th March, 1887, Fanny gave birth to a healthy girl. The child was duly registered, and her name was Daisy Hewitt Dodd.

At this point there was no evidence to show that Fanny Dodd had any feelings other than love for her daughter. Indeed, records showed that she had taken Daisy to nearby Wellesbourne to be vaccinated – probably against snallpox.

On 15th March, Fanny sent a letter to the young man she believed to be the father of her child.

Morton Morrell, 15th March.

Dear Joe
l dare say you will surprised hear that I was confined last Tuesday—a little girl. Of course it has come from last Whitsunday, when of course you know what took place by Pipe’s Mill. It comes exactly from that time. At least I know it belongs you, because there has not been any transaction between me and any man since I went with you then. Dear Joe, I hope you will come to some arrangement. Once, when you asked me, I said not, but I did not know for certain then, but I knew before I left Trueloves for I had gone half my time nearly when I left her. I hope you will either have me or come to some pairing arrangement without going to any further trouble. I ought to have written to you before now, but I kept it from everyone, not even my mother knew I was in the family way until the child was born on Tuesday. I am very weak and can scarcely scribble this letter. I ought to have written to you before. I very sorry it ever occurred. I think the child will own you anywhere. It is a strong healthy looking baby, and likely to live. I think have told you all at present. Believe me, yours sincerely Lizzie, or, as they call me, Miss Dodd.

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Joseph Hewitt was evidently not prepared to settle down to married life. A couple of days later, he replied. The substance of what he wrote was never recorded, but one can guess what he wrote, judging by Fanny’s reply:

Mr J. Hewitt – I am writing to thank you for the money that you sent me, which I received quite safe last Tuesday morning, but I was quite surprised at the abusing letter you sent me: and as to saying the child belongs to Charley, that quite untrue, for I am quite sure it belongs to you, and if you do not continue to pay the money I shall swear it on you, because I have things against you to show plain proof. You know you bought me gin and came to meet me with it, but I didn’t take it. and then you sent me that 10s. That has done it at once if I was to swear you. I shall be sure to get pay, for Lord Leigh only asks the girl a few questions and if I tell him you cannot get over it, and it will be nothing but the truth. The time will tell anyone; it comes from Whit-Sunday, at least. I never had any dealings with anybody else, and if old Joe says he can prove it, I should like him to do so. And as for my carrying on here with chaps, I have only spoken to one since I left Stoneleigh. I can get that proved by the people at Moreton Morrell, and can get it proved that those people that told you are very great liars. If they were to look at home and themselves, they have no room to talk about me, and as for you calling me a prostitute, I think you had better mind, or I shall come over and see you and some one else too. I shall expect to hear from you again on the eighth of next month, or I shall swear it was you. The child belongs to you. I should never have said it was yours if you did not get me into trouble, and now you must help me to get out it. People were great liars to say we knocked French’s wheat down, and if we had, the child did not come from that, but we did not. F. Dodd.

Several truths emerge from this exchange. Firstly, Fanny and Joe had enjoyed a brief but tumultuous sexual relationship. Secondly, Fanny had what we might call something of a reputation – she was clearly a very attractive and passionate young woman. Thirdly, Joe Hewitt had been swept off his feet but, while being prepared to send money for the upkeep of his daughter, saw no future in a long term relationship with Fanny Dodd.

IN PART TWO

A gruesome discovery…
A brown paper clue
A trip to Birmingham


TRUE CRIME . . . A Warwickshire tragedy

Drive east on the A425 out of Royal Leamington Spa and you will soon come to the village of Radford Semele. The Semele is nothing to do with the princess in Greek mythology or Handel’s opera of the same name, but apparently relates to a Norman family from Saint Pierre-de-Semilly who were lords of the manor in the twelfth century. These days it is a rather prosperous village, much expanded from 1947, when it housed a mixture of the well-off and the rural poor, with nothing much in between.

Number 23 Radford Semele housed the Ashby family. Frederick, aged 48, his wife Marie, 51, son Frederick Philip, 27 and a younger daughter. Frederick junior was in the RAF. In 1947 people didn’t tend to move about as much as they do these days, and the 1911 census tells us that Frederick lived with his grandparents in Radford, while wife Marie had been born in Napton, a few miles down the road. They had married in 1921.

The late winter had been particularly savage, and after a brief heatwave in June, the July weather was cloudy and humid. Those with a radio or a gramophone could have been listening to Frank Sinatra sing Among My Souvenirs, which topped the charts for three weeks. Fred Ashby junior had been a pupil at Clapham Terrace School in Leamington and, being something of an athlete, was a member of the celebrated Coventry Club, Godiva Harriers. After a spell as a draughtsman at the Lockheed works in nearby Leamington, he had joined the RAF. He had come home from nearby Church Lawford on weekend leave, and on the morning of Sunday 27th July, had set off across the fields with a friend, Cyril Bye, to try and shoot a few rabbits for the pot.

It seems that the relationship between Fred Ashby (left) and his father was anything but harmonious. Fred senior, who was a foreman at the Coventry Radiator factory in the village, was often involved in loud arguments when his son was home on leave. At around 4.00pm that Sunday afternoon, a Radford teenager called Rose Marie Summers was standing talking to a friend outside a nearby house, when she saw Fred senior staggering out of the Ashby’s house, clutching his side, in obvious pain. He cried out, “He has kicked me.”

The girl saw Ashby walk round to the rear of the house and return with a shotgun in his hands. He pointed it through the open window of the cottage and fired.

Witnesses who entered the house shortly afterwards never forgot the horrific scene, Young Fred Ashby was kneeling on the floor, his head face down on the sofa. In his back was a gaping wound, pumping blood. The police and ambulance were quickly summoned, and the young man was rushed to the Warneford Hospital, just little over a mile away in Leamington. There was nothing doctors could do to save his life, however, and he died later that evening with his mother at his bedside.

There was never a more cut and dried case for Warwickshire Police. Even as the local bobby, PC Haines, arrived at the scene, Fred Ashby was beside the body of his dying son, trying desperately to staunch the fatal wound, saying, “I did it. I shot him.”

As the case progressed up the ladder of the criminal justice system, from local magistrates’ court to Birmingham Assizes, it became clear that the evidently mild-mannered Fred Ashby was, for whatever reason, regularly bullied by his physically powerful son and, having been knocked about and abused during the afternoon of 27th July, had finally snapped and,in a red mist, fired the shot that ended his son’s life. His plea of manslaughter was accepted, and he was sentenced to ten years penal servitude.

Whatever grief he bore for the killing of his son, Frederick Ashby survived his prison sentence and died in 1984. His wife Marie pre-deceased him by nine years. The senior policeman in the case, Chief Superintendent Alec Spooner of Warwickshire CID, is celebrated by True Crime enthusiasts as the man who led the case investigating the as-yet-unsolved ‘witchcraft murder’ of Charles Walton, at Lower Quinton in 1945, but that is a story for another day.







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