Monday, 18 February 2013
On 23rd February 1885 at Exeter Goal, John Henry George Lee went to the gallows, conivicted of the murder of Miss Emma Ann Whitehead Keyse. James Berry the executioner had earlier checked the scaffold and trapdoor and found them to be in good working order. However when the time came to drop John into eternity, the trapdoor failed.
John Henry George Lee was born at 1 Elm Cottage Abbotskerswell, Devon on 15th August 1864 to John Lee, and agricultural labourer and his wife Mary Stevens (sometimes Stephens).
On the 1871 Census, six year old John can be found living with his parents, elder sister Amelia Mary and grandfather John Lee, at Tree Cottage in Abbotskerwell, Devon. John's mother Mary had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Harris. Elizabeth Harris, John's half sister was brought up by her maternal grandparent William and Betsy Stevens.
John's sister Amelia Mary entered the employment of Miss Keyes at The Glen, Babbacombe, Torquay and at the age of 15 John followed her. However in 1879, against his parents wishes John joined the Royal Navy.
On the 1881 Census John can be found stationed on the training ship the Implacable at Devonport under Captain Thomas S Jackson. Later he served on the training ship Liberty. Unfortunately John's naval career was cut short after he contacted pneumonia and was invalided out of service in 1882. John went back into domestic service and towards the end of 1882 was employed by Colonel Edward Brownlow, however only six months later John was accused of stealing from his employer. John was arrested and later found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment at Exeter Gaol After serving his sentence, John returned to his old job as gardener at The Glen in Babbacombe. By this time John's half sister Elizabeth Harris was working at The Glen as a cook.
For reasons not quite clear Miss Keyse became disappoints in the quality of John's work and docked his pay from 2s 6d a week to just 2s. This is not have the desired affect as John decided that for less pay he would do less work. Eventually Miss Keyse gave John notice to quit his employment at The Glen.
Three weeks later on 15th November 1884 fire broke out at The Glen. Elizabeth Harris awoke the the smell of burning, he roused two other servants in the house, Jane and Eliza Neck. John was apparently already awake and helped lead the woman to safety, during this rescue, John left a bloody hand print on Elizabeth's nightdress.
Coastguards and local fishermen helped douse the flames. It was then discovered that three fires had been set in different locations, Miss Keyse bedroom, the drawing room and the dining room where they discovered the dead body of Emma Keyse laid out on the sofa. She had been bludgeoned with a heavy object on the left side of her head her throat had also been cut with a knife, so deeply that the neck bones were notched. The window of the dinning room was broken, something John admitted doing to 'let the smoke out of the house'. Further investigation of the property revealed a large pool of blood in the hall by the stairs. An oil can containing paraffin used to start the fires was found to be covered in blood. Also a towel, knife and pair of trousers belonging to John were found in his quarters, all stained with blood and smelling of paraffin.
John was arrested and charged with the murder of Miss Keyse, he was sent to trial on 2nd February 1885. He pleaded not guilty and protested his innocence throughout the three day proceedings. At the trail Elizabeth Harris testified that John had made several threats against Emma Keyse's life and had threatened to burn the house down, especially after Miss Keyse reduced his wages. The jury only took forty minutes to find John guilty, he was sentenced to death.
On 23rd February 1885 John walked from the condemned cell to the gallows. Three times he stood in place, thee times the rope was adjusted around his neck and three times the lever was thrown. Each time the trapdoor failed to open. John was returned to his cell as a stay of execution was ordered to allow time for the Home Secretary to be contacted. John's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
The Guardian reported on 24th February 1885,
"The scene which occurred at Exeter Goal yesterday morning will go far to justify those who have long urged the need for some alteration and improvement in the manner of conducting executions in this country. Without going into revolting details, it is sufficient to say that three unsuccessful attempts were made to carry out the sentence which have been pronounced upon John Lee for th notorious murder at Babbicombe [sic].
After the third failed attempt the miserable man was taken back to the prison and the execution postponed, with the view of affording the Sheriff time to communicate with the Home Secretary. In spite of the peculiar atrocity of his crime, it is impossible not to feel some pity for the man, who was thus doomed to undergo three a great part - perhaps the greater part - of that penalty of which the law had condemned him to suffer once; and it will be learned without surprise that the convict has been respited."
John was sent to Plymouth Convict Prison to serve out his sentence. He appears as an inmate there on both the 1891 and the 1901 Census. John was eventually released from prison on 18th December 1907
On 22 January 1909 John married Jessie Augusta Widger Bulled. They had two children together, John Aubrey Maurice born in 1910 in Newcastle Upon Tyne and Eveline Victoria May born in 1911.
Just before the birth of his daughter John abandoned pregnant Jessie and his son John in the Lambeth Workhouse and left for America with barmaid Adelina Gibbs. Together they arrived in the United States on 28th February 1911 on the Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm. They lived in Milwakuee until John's death on 19th March 1945 aged 81 years. Adelina passed away on 9th January 1969.
It's not known what happened to Jessie and John Jr, but Eveline later married in 1939
Monday, 11 February 2013
On the 19th November 1877 William Hussell met his maker at the end of William Marwood's rope for the wilful murder of his wife, Mary Hussell.
William Hussell was born in 1839 in Eastdown, Devon to John Hussell, a coachman, and his wife Mary Ackland.
In 1851, 12 year old William is a scholar living with his parents at Watermouth Cottage in Ilfracombe, Devon. In 1861, 21 year old william is lodging with the Mouse family in the High Street, Ilfracombe, Devon. Unfortunately William's occupation listed on the census return is too warn to read. At some point between 1861 and 1870, William becomes a butcher, setting up shop at Butcher's Row in Barnstaple
In 1870 in Bideford, Devon William marries Mary Bellew. In 1871 the newly married couple are living in Newport Road, Barnstaple where William is now described as a master butcher. The couple's first child, a daughter Mary Ann is born in1872, followed by William Charles Bewell in 1875, Thomas Bellew in 1876 and baby Edith in 1877.
By 1877 the family had moved to their present house at Diamond Street, where they employed a maid by the name of Emily Dockery.
By all accounts William liked his drink and as a consequence, Mary to the brunt of his drunken rages. On the evening of 5th October 1877 William was much the worse for drink, eve so he and his wife Mary worked together at their shop on Butcher's Row until 8:30. At the end of the evening William returned home to Sander Cottages in Diamond Road, however, having argued with William previously that day, Mary was afraid to return with him.
14 year old Emily Dockerty was the sole witness to the events that unfolded in Sander's Cottage that night. She testified in court that,
"He returned home between 8 and 9 that evening, he was not sober, my mistress was not at home.
When Prisoner came home two of the Children were in bed and the baby was in the Cradle. I then put the eldest Child to bed, and by Prisoners order went to the Market to fetch my Mistress leaving him in the kitchen. I did not find her at the Shop but on my return home I found her in the Court outside the front Door. Prisoner was inside where I had left him on a chair. The baby was crying and the deceased asked me to go and fetch it to her. I took it out into the Court to her.
Prisoner came into the Court and asked her to come in, she replied "I am afraid to go in William as I fear you will hurt me." He said " I will not hurt you". He then pushed her into the kitchen, as he was pushing her in he said "You dirty [unclear] you shall never go outside this door again alive." She went through the kitchen into the back kitchen and sat on the stairs that lead to the bedroom and gave the baby the breast. Prisoner then asked me to make him some Tea, whilst I was doing so and he was sitting on the Chair at the table I heard him say "I will wait until the Clock strikes" he then took a knife (now produced) out of the pocket of his Coat. He held it up in his right hand and said to deceased who was still in the back kitchen "I have got it ready for you", at the time he said this he could see her from where he was sitting in the Chair. She said "You can't do it, my mother's prayers will be answered for me." I don't take any notice of what you say and when I look at the baby I feel happy." He then returned the knife to his pocket. A few minutes afterwards he took it out again and holding it up said to deceased "It is what I kill the Pigs with." He again put it into his pocket, almost immediately he took it out a third time and walked into the back kitchen towards deceased with the knife in his right hand. I heard her say "I will scream murder if you touch me." I then ran out being very much frightened and went to Mrs. Sanders's house which is four or five doors off.
As I was running down the Court towards Mrs. Sanders's house I heard my Mistress scream "Murder." I returned to the house having been absent about a minute and a half, I met the prisoner walking down the Court he said "I have finished her." I went into the Prisoner's house, deceased was lying in the back kitchen on the floor on her face. I saw blood on the floor. The knife was lying on the floor beside her I heard the baby crying but could not see it. It was under her. I said to her "Mrs. Hussell can I do anything for you." She made no reply and did not move. I then went to tell Mrs. Sanders. While I was at Mrs. Sanders's Mrs. Giddy called to me. I went up the Court, and found her standing just outside Prisoner's Door. She asked me to fetch the Baby, I told her I could not do so. Mrs. Giddy then went in and brought it out to me. There was a quantity of blood on its Night dress and its Arms.
During the time I lived with Prisoner and deceased, Prisoner drank a great deal and very often came home tipsy. I have very often heard him threaten to kill his Wife. On Monday night before her death (1st October) he came home to have his supper, he was very tipsy, he then began to abuse the deceased and said he would finish her.
The Deceased used to find fault with the Prisoner for his intemperate habits and for not attending to his business. She was a hardworking industrious Woman and very temperate. The Prisoner was not in the habit of killing and Cattle at home and knives or butcher's tools were not kept there and none of the Butcher's work was done in Sander's Court. I never saw the knife now produced in the house in Sander's Court until the Prisoner took it out of his Pocket on Friday night."
It must have been an extremely frightening experience for poor Emily.
Mary had been attacked by her husband whilst she sat on the stairs breastfeeding Edith, the medical evidence supported this has Dr. Andrew Fernie testified,
"I am a Surgeon and live at Barnstaple. On Friday night 5th October instant I was called by Police Constable Thomas Downing at Eleven o'clock P.M. and proceeded with him to the Prisoner's house. Superintendent Longhurst was there when I arrived. I found the body of the deceased on the floor partly in the front and partly in the back kitchen. Her face was covered blood. She was quite dead, but warm. There was a great deal of blood in her mouth and throat, there was a large quantity of blood in the back kitchen.
On Saturday the sixth instant by direction of the Coroner I made a post mortem examination of the body in which I was assisted by Mr. Jackson. I found the following incised wounds on the body. One on the upper part of the right breast which had penetrated very deeply into the flesh into a large blood vessel below the collar bone. A wound on the lower part of the same breast which had passed between the ribs and into the Chest, close to, but not wounding the lung and liver. A wound on the back of the left blade bone not very deep. A wound on the back of the left upper arm, and a wound on the left side of the face which passed very deeply down to the lower jaw, from hence across the mouth and through the palate on the right side, which had opened a large blood vessel there, and caused a great deal of hemorrhage (sic). I opened the body and found the organs all healthy. There were 2 bruises on the right breast and 2 on the right side of the face.
The body looked blanched as if a great deal of blood had flown from it. I am of the opinion that the deceased's death was caused from loss of blood occasioned by the wounds which I have described. The wounds are of such a character as might be caused by such a knife which the Superintendent of Police has produced. The wound which was on the left cheek and which took a downward course was a fatal one. Having regard to the course of this wound I think the deceased was struck by some person standing at a higher level than she was."
William was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. On 19th November 1877 William walked to the scaffold with a firm step, but broke down and cried bitterly before he was dropped into oblivion.
But what became of William and Mary's children. Thomas Bewell Hussell was first taken in by his mother's sister, Ann Clarke and husband George Clarke, then later by his mother's brother, Thomas Bewell and wife Alice Maria. Where he is still living in 1911.
Mary, William and Edith were sent to The New Orphans Houses in Bristol, where they all appear on the 1881 Census, strangely though Mary Ann is listed as Sarah Ann. Edith is still living at the home for orphans in 1891. In 1899 Mary Ann Hussell marries Arthur Ernest Britton in Bideford, Devon.
In 1901 Edith is visiting her sister Mary Ann and husband Arthur at their home in Glamorgan.
Monday, 4 February 2013
On 1st April 1872, William Frederick (Fred) Horry met his maker at the end of William Marwood's rope. He was also the first of William Marwood executions and the first at Lincoln Castle using the more human 'long drop' method.
William Frederick Horry was born in the December if 1843 to William Horry, a brewer and his wife Elizabeth Bland. On the 1851 Census, 7 years old William, then known as Fred is living with his parents and two younger siblings in Lincolnshire. In 1861 the now 17 year old William is an assistant brewer with his father.
In 1867 in Staffordshire William married his future wife Jane, the couple then took over the running of The George Hotel in Burslem Staffordshire. But not everything was well in the Horry household. William began to drink and became abusive towards Jane, believing her to be having an affair. So much so that by the September if 1871 the couple had become estranged. Jane had taken their three children and gone to live with William's parents in Boston Lincolnshire. William continued to visit his family but his behaviour became so violent that William's one father banned him from the home.
William was unable to maintain The George Hotel and sold the business before moving to Nottingham. In the January of 1872 William pleaded once more with his wife for her and their children to return to him, being unsuccessful he travelled back to Nottingham and purchased a revolver.
William then returned to Boston, and gained entry into his father's house where he lay in wait for Jane, shooting her dead as she entered the dining room. William then then calmly handed the revolver to his stunned brother Thomas, saying -
“You have no notion, Tom, how I loved that woman, but I could not stand the jealousy.”
William then stayed at the home awaiting his arrest. At his trial on 31st March William pleaded insanity, but the prosecution was successful in it's argument that the crime had been premeditated. William was found guilty of the murder of his wife and sentenced to death. He showed no interest in appealing his conviction and was executed the next day at Lincoln Castle by William Marwood.
William is buried in Lucy Tower in Lincoln Castle were a simple stone baring his initials and death of death mark his final resting place.
Supporters of William erected a granite obelisk in his and Jane's honour at St John the Baptist Churchyard in Burslem, Staffordshire.
Monday, 28 January 2013
On 28th April 1882 George Henry Lamson met his maker at the end of William Marwood's rope at Wandsworth Prison for the murder of his disabled brother-in-law Percy Malcolm John.
George Lamson was born in New York city in the United States of America to William C Lamson, a clergyman and his wife Julia. At some point before the 1870's George travelled with his parents and siblings to England. He can be found aged 18 living with his family at Sydney Lodge on the 1871 Census, his occupations is described as a medical student. After George graduated from medical school he volunteered as a surgeon in Eastern Europe before returning to England.
In 1878 Dr Lamson married Kate George John in the Isle of Wight. On the 1881 Census Dr Lamson can be found listed as Henry G, physician surgeon, living in Cambridge Road in Christchurch, Bournemouth. Kate is visiting her sister Margaret and brother-in-law William Greenhill Chapman, along with her baby daughter Agnes in 1881.
Percy John, who had a deformity of the spine which resulted in partial paralyse, was boarding at Blenheim House School, Wimbledon in 1881.
On his return to England Dr Lamson had become addicted to morphine, his addiction had eaten away at his assets. Deep in debt Dr Lamson could see no way out other than murder. Desperate to bring the finances of his wife's family under his control, George decided to murder his 18 year old brother-in-law Percy John. On 3rd December 1881 Dr Lamson visited Percy at his school lodgings where together they had tea and Dundee cake. Dr Lamson was then able to convince Percy to take some pills laced with aconite, a poison derived from the plant Monkshood. That night Percy suffered serious stomach cramps and died shortly after. Suspicion soon fell on Dr Lamson, who had suddenly departed to Paris. Soon the newspapers had picked up on the story of poor Percy's death, which prompted Dr Lamson to return to England to protest his innocence. Dr Lamson had been taught during his medical student days that aconite was undetectable, however forensic science had progressed since then.
An examination was made of Percy's vomit, stomach fluids and urine. All were found to contain aconite, as were the pills Dr Lamson had given Percy, which were found in Percy's room after his death. Dr Lamson was brought before magistrates at The Old Bailey in the February 1882. It took the jury only 25 minutes to convict him of the wilful murder of Percy John, a sentence of death was passed. When asked if he had anything to say, Dr Lamson simply stated, "merely to protest my innocence before God."
Dr Lamson's execution date was set for the 4th April 1882, but this was delayed due to the intervention of the US president and Dr Lamson's family and Friends in New York, who wished to provide evidence of insanity in Dr Lamson's family. The New York Times reported -
"Dr Lamson's American Friends.
Efforts To Obtain A Reprieve On The Ground Of Hereditary Insanity.
The case of Dr, George Henry Lamson, who was convicted in London, England, on the 13th Inst (February 13th 1882), on the charge of causing the death of his brother-in-law, Percy Malcolm John, by giving him poison, has aroused a deep feeling of sympathy among Americans, not only in this city, but else-where.
Young Dr. Lamson was arrested in December last, on the specific charge of having wilfully poisoned his wife's brother by giving him aconitine pills at Blenheim House School, Wimbledon. Percy John was only 19 years of age and suffered from a serious affection of the spine. The friends of Dr. Lamson have been more or less-firm in the conviction that the prisoner is insane, and since the close of the trial evidence is accumulating rapidly to show that insanity hereditary in Lamson's family.
An investigation of the records of the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane, was made and it was found that the Rev. William Lamson's mother, maternal uncle and sister died in that institution."
The evidence of the supposed hereditary insanity was considered not to be strong enough to change the sentence passed and Dr Lamson was hung for his crime.
George Lamson's father William was to later write to the London newspapers stating that all of George's debts could have been cleared and medical attention given for his addictions, possibly preventing the murder of Percy, if George had only said the word. I am sure that came as little comfort to Percy's family.
Monday, 21 January 2013
Murderous Monday - Women Who Kill - Florence Maybrick - The Flypaper Poisoner, Miscarriage of Justice?
Florence Maybrick was born Florance Chandler on 3rd September 1862 in Mobile County Alabama to John Chandler, a banking partner and Caroline Holbrook.
After her father's death and her mother's remarriage to Baron Adolph von Roques, Florence travelled with her family to Liverpool in England. It was aboard ship that she met her future husband, James Maybrick, a cotton broker 24 years her senior. They were soon married on 27 July 1881 at St James Church, Picidilly, London.
Unfortunately their marriage was an unhappy one. James had several mistresses and was obsessed with his health, to the point of self administering arsenic and strychnine. Florence had lovers of her own, one is believed to have been local businessman Alfred Brierley and even James's own brother, Edwin. After a violent argument with James regarding her faithfulness, James threatened to divorce Florence.
Florence was in the habit of buying flypapers and soaking them in water to extract the arsenic as a beauty treatment. Florence bought some flypaper from a local chemist in the April of 1889. On 27th of that month James Maybrick was taken ill. At first it was thought that James has accidentally self administered a double dose of strychnine, doctors treated him for a stomach complaint but James's condition deteriorated. Florance wrote a compromising letter to Alfred, which was intercepted by the family nanny, Alice Yapp and passed onto James's brothers.
On 11th May 1889 James Maybrick died at his home in Liverpool. His brothers were immediately suspicious and arranged for his body to be examined. The post mortem found small traces of arsenic throughout James's body, but not in quantities sufficient to kill a person. It was also unclear as to whether James had been poisoned or had administered the arsenic himself. Yet Florence was arrested for her husband's murder. The Liverpool Echo reported -
"Florence Maybrick has been arrested on suspicion of murdering her husband James Maybrick, her children are being cared for by their godmother, Mrs Jannion at Gateacre."
Florence stool trial at St George's Hall, Liverpool, were she was convicted of her husband's murder and sentenced to death. A public outcry followed, the was then concluded that while Florence had administered the arsenic to her husband with the intent to murder, there was reasonable doubt as to whether the amount of arsenic was the cause of death. Florence's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Florence was first held in the Female Convict Prison in Woking, Guildford, where she appears aged 27 on the 1891 Census. Later Florence was transferred to the Female Convict Prison and House of Correction on Bierton Road in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Where she appears aged 37 on the 1901 Census.
Florence was finally released in 1904 after having spent 14 years in custody. She returned to the United States where towards the end of her life she became a recluse. Florence died at home in her three room cabin in Gaylordsville, Connecticut on 23rd October 1941.
It seems perhaps the courts where preoccupied with punishing Florence for her suspected adultery, rather than the actual death of her husband as the evidence against her was thin to say the least. A doctor and chemist both testified to James having self administered and purchased arsenic for his personal use. Many Victorian men believed arsenic to be a tonic and aphrodisiac. Florence had very little to gain from James's death and would have been finanically better off if she had legally separated from James. Maybe the thought of divorce and the resulting ruin in Victorian society drove her to desperate measures. Found in Florence's possessions after her death was a tattered family bible, pressed between it's pages was a ageing piece of paper with instructions on how to soak flypaper to obtain arsenic for use as a beauty treatment.
Monday, 14 January 2013
On Saturday 27th December 1856 at York Castle, John Hannah a tailor from Manchester, met his maker at the end of Thomas Askern's rope for the wilful murder of his common law wife Jane Banham.
John Hannah was born sometime in 1836 in Ireland to William Hannah, a tailor and his wife Lelia. John was one of nine children born to his parents. On the 1851 Census, 15 year old John can be found living with his parents and siblings at 11 Warriners Buildings, Bishopsgate, Manchester.
At some time after March 1851 John started a relationship with Jane Banham, a married woman ten years his senior. Jane Banham, a dancer in a travelling corps of performers, and her children had been abandoned by her husband William when he emigrated to America. She began to live with together with John as husband and wife, baring him two children. However things between them began to sour.
Two weeks before the Christmas of 1855 Jane and John separated. Jane took the children to live with her father John Hope, a member of the same performing troupe. In the June of 1856 the company were performing in Halifax. John Hannah walked to Halifax from Manchester and pleaded with Jane's father to be able to speak with her. At first John Hope refused but John Hannah persisted until a meeting was set up between them back in Armley at in the parlour room of the Malt Hill Inn on 11th September.
During this meeting John Hannah pleaded with Jane to return to him with the children, upon her refusal John asked Jane's father to speak to her on his behalf. John Hope was reported to have said that he would, 'have nothing to do with the matter.' John Hope left John Hannah and his daughter Jane still talking in the Malt Mill Inn. Witnesses reported that at one point Jane left the Inn saying, 'I want nothing more to do with you!' It was at this point that John Hannah pulled Jane back into the parlour room. A little while later the scuffing of chairs was heard in the parlour, causing the landlady of the Inn and some patrons to investigate. They found John Hannah kneeling upon Jane grasping her throat tightly with his hand. One of the witnesses exclaimed, 'what do you mean, you rascal!' To which John replied, 'I mean murder,' before slitting Jane's throat with a razor. He then calmly got up and left the inn saying, 'I have done what I intended.'
Poor Jane staggered from the inn into the street, streaming blood from her neck. She was taken to her lodgings and medical assistance was sort. Sadly Jane passed away two hours later. Doctors remarked that it was a miracle she lived so long. John was soon found, arrested and brought to trial at York assizes on 13th December before Justice Erle. John's defence relied heavily on the suggestion that this was a case of aggravated manslaughter rather than murder due to Jane's provocation of John. Justice Erle stated that he could not find anything that was provocation by blows, and it was his opinion that Jane's refusal to live with John was not provocation at all.
The jury retired and a mere 15 minutes later found John guilty of the charge of wilful murder. Upon hearing the death sentence John fainted and had to be helped from the court.
John Hannah's father, William Hannah sent a letter to Queen Victoria pleading for John's life to be spared.
"To Her Gracious Magesty,
Manchester, December 17th 1856.
This is the humble pettion of William Hannah to Your Gracious Magesty, praying that you will spare the life of my unfortunate son, John Hannah, that is now lying in York Castle under the sentence of deth, for the murder of Jane Banham, at Amrley, on 11th September. Your humble pettioner served in the Royal Artilrey for twenty years, and was at the taking of the Flushing, in 1809 and shortly after joined Lord Wellingtons Armay, whare i was engaged in the prinsebel ingagmanets in that contary; and for my service your most Gracious Magesty granted me a shilling a day and a medal with six clasps; i also lost a son in the Canidian war, fighting against the rebels.
My unhappy son's twin brother as lastly been discharged from the 7th Royal Fusiliers at Chatham, with a pension of 8d. per day. He landed in the Crimea with the expedton, and fought with his reghment at the Alma, and at the Battel of Inkerman, and was severely wounded in the assult of the Grait Redan, and was presented with a medal and three clasps from your most Gracious Magesty. i also have a nother son that is following in the steps of his father and two brothers; he is serving in the 5th Royal Lancashire Militia. Your humbel pettioner hopes that your most Gracious Magesty will take it into your consideration the service that this familey has doen for thare Queen and contary, and spare the life of my unfortunate son, for my sake and that of his poor mother, that was with me through the Peninsular War. This is the humble and sincere wish of your humble and faithful servant, and father of my unfortunate son, William Hannah.'
Sadly the Hannah family's military service was not enough to save John from his appointment with Thomas Askern.
The execution took place at noon, some 5000 spectators turned out to watch the hanging. The bolt was drawn, John dropped and after a few struggles, fell still. John's body was left hanging until 1 o'clock when it was cut down and taken for burial in the castle grounds.
Monday, 7 January 2013
On 28th April 1889, William Henry Bury (Berry) met his maker at the end of James Berry's rope for the murder of his wife Ellen Bury (Berry) in Dundee, Scotland.
William Henry Bury was born on 25th May 1859 in Stourbridge Worcestershire to Henry Bury, an employee of a local fishmonger, and his wife Mary Jane Henley. Tragically William was orphaned at an early age. His father Henry was killed in a horse and cart accident on 10th April 1860, when he fell under the wheels of his own cart as his horse bolted.
Mary Jane, already suffering with depression after the birth of her fourth child, William, and the death of her eldest child, seven year old Elizabeth Ann from a fit that same year, was committed to the Worcester Pauper and Lunatic Asylum on 7th May 1860. There she remained until her death at the age 33 on 30th March 1864.
|William Henry Bury|
On the 1861 Census, one year old William can be found being cared for by Mary Jane's younger brother, Edward Henley and his wife Ann. By 1871 William, then aged 12, is a boarding pupil at Stourbridge's Blue Coate Charitable School. At the age of 16 William found work as a Factor's Clerk in Wolverhampton, where he remained until the early part of the 1880s when he left after being unable to repay a loan. He found work with a lock manufacturer in Lord Street, Wolverhampton, until he was sacked for a theft in 1884. After that William lead an unsettled life as a street hawker.
Sometime in the October of 1887, William moved to London where he found work as a sawdust seller. It was in London that he met and later married Ellen Elliot on 2nd April 1888. William and Ellen left London and travelled to Dundee to escape William's debt, arriving in the Scottish city on 20th January 1889. On the 4th of February, William bought a length of rope from a provisions store.
The evening of 10th February 1889 William walked into the Dundee Central Police Station in Bell Street and reported the supposed suicide of his wife Ellen. William was reported to say that he had been drinking the night before and woke in the morning to discover his wife's body with a rope around her neck. He also made several rambling references to being mistaken for and arrested as Jack the Ripper. Officers were immediately dispatched to search William's home address, 113 Princess Street, where they made the gruesome discovery of a woman's mutilated body stuffed into a wooden packing crate.
Ellen had been strangled to death with the rope William has purchased earlier, her body stabbed several times with a penknife and her abdomen had been cut open from the pubis bone upwards, exposing 12 inches of intestines. To fit the body into the small packing crate her head had been bent to rest on her on shoulder, her left leg was broken in two places and twisted so that the foot rested on her left shoulder and her right leg had been smashed. It soon became apparent that William had lived with the box for several days, even using it as a table, before going to the police.
William was arrested and sent to trail for the murder of his wife, either by strangulation or stabbing. The hearing lasted only 13 hours before the jury convicted William of the wilful murder of Ellen and he was sentenced to hang for his crime. William Henry Bury was executed on the morning of 28th April 1889.
Due to the similarities between Ellen's death and that of Jack the Ripper's victims, detectives investigating the Ripper murders were sent to Dundee to interview William They however, were unconvinced that William was the Whitchapel murderer. James Berry the executioner remained convinced that he had hung the infamous Jack the Ripper and supposedly recounted an exchange he had with one of the detectives from London -
'I think it is him right enough.'
'And we agree with you. We know all about his movements in the past, and we are quite satisfied that you have hanged Jack the Ripper, there will be no more Whitechapel crimes.'
- London Detective.
Monday, 31 December 2012
John Gould went down in history, in more ways than one, as the last man to be publicly executed at Reading Gaol.
“Good people all I pray attend,
On earth my life will shortly end,
For dreadful murder my life is took away,
I my dear child is basely slay,
I gave her the sad and dreadful wound,
And left her bleeding on the ground,
John Gould is my name,
I bought myself to grief and shame,
To grief and shame it does appear,
In Windsor Town in Berkshire,
My early grave will be made soon,
No tears will fall on my earthly tomb;
No flowers or grass on my grave will rise,
No stone will mark where m body lies.”
(Verse written at the time of Gould’s execution in 1862)
John Gould was born in Windsor Berkshire in 1823. In Newington in 1851 John Gould married Caroline Miller. Their only child, a daughter Hannah Gould was born in Clewer, Windsor in 1854. The family can be found living at Clarence Clump, Clewer Berkshire.
Little Hannah had spent the 30th December playing with her best friend, 9-year-0ld Harriet Clarke and Harriet’s younger brother.
Around one in the afternoon, John returned home after drinking at The Prince of Wales beer shop to find that Hannah had not cleaned the house to his satisfaction, nor did she have the fire ready for him to warm himself by. John started shouting at Hannah: “You naughty child, why didn’t you clean up the place!”
“Oh, father I couldn’t do it,” Hannah cried, but her tears only served to anger John further. Taking his cut throat razor, John slit Hannah’s throat.
He then summoned his neighbour Mrs Clarke, Harriet’s mother, to his home. Pointing at his daughter he exclaimed, “I have done it! I have done it!” Horrified, Mrs Clarke ran into the street shouting for help to all that would listen. John, still in a terrible rage grabbed Hannah’s limp body and threw her into the street shouting, “you little s**t, I will die for you!”
According to witnesses, John threw Hannah with such force that her head hit a wall with a “sickening squelching noise”.
Samuel Wilkins, aged 12, who lived next door managed to drag Hannah, hardly breathing and struggling for live, away from the house before shouting for help. Another neighbour Mr Coker, helped Samuel carry Hannah to the nearest infirmary, where Hannah’s mother worked as a nurse.
Unfortunately, nothing could be done and Hannah died on the way.
Mr Coker and Samuel returned with PC Radbourne to find John waiting in the doorway of his home still with the blood-soaked razor.
John Gould was tried on 26th February 1862, evidence was submitted as a formality as John had repeatedly confessed his guilt. The jury retired for a short time before finding him guilty of murder.
On 12th March 1862, 4000 men, women and children gathered to watch William Calcraft send John Gould to his maker. Once the bolt was withdrawn, John struggled for a minute or two and then was gone.
Such was the outcry over the manner of John Gould’s execution that it was to become the final public execution performed at Reading Gaol.
Orginally posted on Spooky Isles.
Monday, 24 December 2012
At 9:00am on Monday 28th December 1868, Priscilla met her maker at the end of Thomas Askern's rope at Lincoln Castle for the alleged poisoning of her husband Richard Biggadyke.
Priscilla Biggadyke was born Priscilla Whiley in 1833 in Gedney Lincolnshire to George Whiley, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Susanna Crook. In 1853 Priscilla married Richard Biggadyke, an agricultural labourer in Boston, Lincolnshire.
On the 1861 Census, Priscilla is living with her children Frederick and Alice, while Richard is living at his father William's house.
To supplement Richard's wages, the couple took in lodgers. It wasn't long before Richard began to suspect Priscilla of having an affair with their lodger Thomas Proctor, a 30 year old rat catcher from Lincolnshire.
On the evening of Wednesday 30th September 1868, Richard returned to the home he shared with his wife Priscilla, their three children, Frederick, Alice and Rachel, as well as the two lodgers George Ironmonger and Thomas Proctor. Previously that evening Priscilla, George and Thomas had sat down to a meal of tea and cake, some of which had been saved for Richard's return. Soon after Richard finished his meal he became unwell. A doctor was summoned, but he was unable to offer Richard any relief, 12 hours later Richard was dead. The speed of Richard's passing concerned the doctor and he arranged for a post mortem to take place and for the stomach contains to be analysed. It was soon determined that arsenic was present and Richard had died from poisoning.
Priscilla protested that she had seen Thomas Protect place something in her husband's drink as well as the piece of leftover cake.
Her statement of that fact is as follows -
'On the last day of September, on a Wednesday, I was standing against the tea-table and saw Thomas Proctor put a white powder of some sort into a tea-cup, and then poured some milk, which stood on the table, into it. My husband was at that time in the dairy washing himself. My husband came into the room directly after and sat himself down to the table, and I then poured his tea out and he drank it, and more besides that. And half-an-hour afterwards he was taken ill. He went out of doors and was sick, and came in and sat about a few minutes, and went out and was sick again, and then went to bed, and he asked me to send for the doctor, which I did. The doctor was an hour before he came. I went to the doctor’s about a quarter of an hour after he left and he gave me some medicine and ordered me how to give it to him - two tablespoons every half hour – and I was to put a mustard plaster on the stomach, and he came no more until eleven o’clock at night. I came downstairs to go out of doors and asked Thomas Proctor to go upstairs and sit with my husband. When I went upstairs into the room, as I was going up, I saw Proctor putting some white powder into the medicine bottle with a spoon, and he then went downstairs and left me in the room with my husband. As soon as he had left the room I poured some medicine into the cup and gave my husband, and I tasted it myself. In an hour afterwards I was sick and so I was for two day’s after. What I have just stated about the medicine took place about two o’clock in the morning, and after the doctor had gone. I wish you to send a copy of what I have said to the Coroner, and I wish to be present at the inquest to state the case before them, as it is the truth.
- Priscilla Biggadike X her mark.'
Priscilla and Thomas were duly arrested and taken before Lincoln Assizes, where the judge Justice Byles instructed the jury to dismiss Thomas Proctor on the grounds of lack of evidence. It only took a few minutes for the jury to find Priscilla guilty of the wilful murder of her husband, she was then sentenced to death.
On the morning of the execution, Monday 28th December 1868, Priscilla had to be assisted to the scaffold. However while the noose was placed around her neck and the hood over her head, Priscilla stood firm, then exclaimed, “All my troubles are over; shame, you’re not going to hang me. Surely my troubles are over.” The bolt was then drawn, Priscilla dropped and struggled for a full three minutes before becoming still.
Priscilla was then buried in the grounds of Lincoln Castle, a small grey stone baring the simple inscription P. B. Dec 28 1868 marks her grave.
Priscilla's story may have ended there, if it had not been for the conscience of Thomas Proctor, who upon his deathbed 14 years later confessed to the murder of Richard Biggadyke.
Priscilla received a posthumus pardon, yet still remains with the convicts in Lucy Tower, Lincoln Castle.
Monday, 17 December 2012
"London's Newest Tragedy."
"Two Murders by Mary Wheeler In A Fit Of Jealousy."
On 23rd December 1890, Mary Eleanor Wheeler Pearcey met her maker at the end of James Berry's rope at Newgate Prison, London. She had been convicted of the murder of her lover Frank Hogg's wife Phoebe and baby daughter Phoebe Hanslope Hogg.
Mary Eleanor was born Mary Eleanor Wheeler on 26th March 1866 in Inhtam Kent to James Wheeler, a delivery foreman and Charlotte Ann Kennedy.
Note: there are many references online to Mary Eleanor Wheeler being the daughter of Thomas Wheeler, the famed murderer of Edward Anstee. This is not true and has been proven definitively from direct testimony given by Charlotte Ann in the consequent murder trial of her daughter, Mary Eleanor.
On the 1881 Census, 15 year old Mary is shown living with her parents at 16 Maroon Street, London. However, Mary's father James was to die on 17th August 1882, his death greatly affected Mary and three months later she tried to commit suicide by hanging herself in the garden, from the nail the washing line was attached to.
Around the age of 18 whilst working at a seal skin factory, Mary met and befriended John Charles Pearcey a carpenter, soon after they were living together as man and wife, with Mary calling herself Mrs Pearcey.
"When I made her acquaintance I knew her as Eleanor Wheeler, after an acquaintance of three or four months she lived with me. I lived at different places, and eventually at Bayham Street, Camden Town. I lived with her about three years, when I ceased to live with her she remained at Bayham Street when she lived with me she took the name of Pearcey, and afterwards passed in that name" - John Charles Pearcey at Mary's trial.
They seemed happy, that was until the arrival of Frank Hogg. Frank Samuel Hogg was born In Pancras London in 1860 to James a grocer and tea dealer and Maria Hogg nee Hanslope. When friendship blossomed between Frank and Mary he was working at his then widowed mother's grocery shop at 87 King Street, Camden Town. It wasn't long before their 'friendship' started to sour Mary's relationship with John.
"Towards the latter part of the time she made the acquaintance of Mr. Hogg, and I saw her from time to time in company with Hogg, frequently in the shop in King Street, in consequence of that I ceased to live with her."
"After I ceased to live with the prisoner, I saw her from time to time, and spoke to her. I simply passed the time of day, I never visited her. I was told she she had removed from Bayham Street to Priory Street." - John Charles Pearcey at Mary's trial.
2nd October 1888
My dear F, Do not think of going away, for my heart will break if you do; don’t go , dear. I won’t talk too much, only to see you for five minutes when you can get away; but if you go quite away, how do you think I can live? I would see you married fifty times over, yes. I could bear that far better than parting with you for ever, and that is what it would be if you went out of England. My dear loving F, you was so down-hearted to-day that your words give me much pain for I have only one true friend I can trust to, and that is yourself. Don’t take that from me. What good would your friendship be then with you so far away? No, no, you must not go away. My heart throbs with pain only thinking about it. What would it be if you went? I should die. And if you love me as you say you do, you will stay. Write or come soon, dear. Have I asked too much? From your loving, M. E.
P.S. I hope you got home safe, and things are all right, and you are well. M.E.
18th November 1888
Dearest Frank, I cannot sleep, so am going to write you a long letter. When you read this I hope your head will be much better, dear. I can’t bear to see you like you were this evening. Try not to give way. Try to be brave, dear, for things will come right in the end. I know things look dark now, but it is always the darkest hour before the dawn. You said this evening, “I don’t know what I ask.” But I do know. Why should you want to take your life because you want to have everything your own way? So you think you will take that which no man has a right? Never take that which you cannot give you will not if you love me as you say you do. Oh, Frank, I should not like to think I was the cause of all your troubles, and yet you make me think so. What can I do? I love you with all my heart, and I will love her because she will belong to you. Yes, I will come and see you both if you wish it. So, dear, try and be strong, as strong as me, for a man should be stronger than a woman. Shall I see you on Wednesday about two o’clock? Try and get away, too, on Friday, as I want to know if you are off on Sunday till seven o’clock. Write me a little note in answer to this. I shall be down on Monday or Tuesday in the morning, about 5 a.m. So believe me your most loving, M.E.
|Mrs. Phoebe Hogg|
Mary befriended Phoebe, inviting her and Frank to spend Christmas and Boxing day with her at 2 Priory Street in 1889. Phoebe became ill in the February 1890 and it was Mary that nursed her during that time. It was around this time that Frank had his own concerns about his wife's fidelity and an argument ensued that stopped Mary from visiting Frank. However Mary continued her friendship, both with Frank's sister Clara Hogg and his wife Phoebe.
It was on the 23rd October 1890 that Mary paid Clara a visit for the last time, it was after this visit that Mary invited Phoebe to have tea with her at her home the next day at 4:00pm
The New York Times reported -
"About 3 o'clock P.M. of Oct 24, the luckless woman left her home, taking her child with her in a perambulator, and was never thereafter seen alive by nay of her relatives. Next day her sister-in-law, still in ignorance of her death, called upon Mary Wheeler to inquire [sic] if she had seen 'Phee' and received an answer in the affirmative."
Mary was still with Clara, explaining how she had, 'scratched her hands and smeared her dresser with blood killing mice', when news was received that the body of a murdered woman had been found in Hampstead.
The corpse was found to have a fractured skull as well as extensive bruising around the head and forearms, the neck had also been cut so violently that the head was almost severed from the body.
Clara asked Mary to accompany her to the mortuary in order to see whether the remains where that of the missing Phoebe. It was Mary's bizarre behaviour when confronted with the corpse of her victim that raised suspicions of the police and resulted in a search of her home at 2 Priory Street. The discovery of blood stains on the walls and kitchen door as well as on the clothes worn by Mary resulted in her arrest.
Later that evening whilst on his rounds, a police constable discovered a heavily bloodstained perambulator in Hamilton Terrace, a mile from where Phoebe's body had been discovered, yet little Phoebe was still missing. The next morning little Phoebe's unmarked body was discovered, it was believed that she had died from suffocation either during her mother's murder or soon after.
The New York Times continued -
"according to the theory set up by the surgical witnesses respecting the manner in which the crime was committed, Phoebe Hogg, upon entering the kitchen, was struck down from behind by a heavy blow, inflicted by a poker upon the back of her head, and fell upon the floor in "terrible convulsions". While struggling for her life, she received three more blows, which probably stunned her, whereupon the murderess to "make sure," all but severed her victim's head from the body with three several [sic] cuts of a knife. It is assumed that she then strangled the child, packed the two corpses into Phoebe Hogg's own perambulator, and wheeled them off to the places where they were subsequently found lying dead."
Two separate witnesses recalled having seen Mary pushing a 'heavily laiden' perambulator between the hours of 6 and 7 the previous evening. The search earlier conducted by the police at 2 Priory Street turned up a metal button missing from the jacket of Phoebe Hogg. Also a cardigan indentified as belonging to Mary was found wrapped around murdered Phoebe's head.
Mary was sent to trail at The Old Bailey on 1st December 1890. The trail lasted for three days in which many witnesses were called and Mary's letters to Frank read out. Mary gave no evidence at the trail, yet maintained he innocence with a plea of, 'not guilty'. Unfortunately for Mary the Jury did not share her feelings and after only 52 minutes found her guilty of the murders of Mrs Hogg and her baby. Before her sentence was read out Mary was asked if she had anything to add, Mary simply stated, 'I say that I am innocent of this charge.'
The execution happened on the morning of Tuesday 23rd December 1890, carried out by James Berry. When asked by the Sheriff of London, Sir James Whitehead, if she had any final remarks Mary uttered, 'my sentence is a just one, but much of the evidence against me false.'
|Picture of Mary Eleanor Wheeler-Pearcey's |
wax work once housed in the chamber of horrors.
Monday, 25 June 2012
On 10th October 1923 Susan Newell met her maker at the end of John Ellis's rope. She had been convicted of the murder of 13 year old paperboy John Johnson. She became the last woman to hang in Scotland and the first woman to hang in Glasgow Prison
Susan was born Susan McAllister sometime between 1893 and 1895 to Peter, a tinsmith and Janet McAllister. Not much is known about her early life, but around the outbreak of World War I she is said to have married Robert McLeod with whom she had a daughter Janet in 1915. Severn years later Robert McLeod was dead and Susan had married John Newell. John by most accounts was a drunken womaniser and their relationship was volatile and at times violent.
In the May of 1923 the Newells had moved to 2 Newlands Street, Coatbridge after being given notice to quit their previous lodgings due to their noisy and violent arguments. However within three weeks of moving into their new lodgings, they were again given notice to quit. This caused another argument between the couple, resulting in John abandoning Susan and Janet to move in with relatives in Glasgow. Susan is said to have tracked her husband down and demanded that he return to the family home, when he refused she head-butted him. A matter John reported to the police, yet it is unknown whether Susan was ever spoken to about this matter.
On the evening of Wednesday 20th June 1923 John Johnson stopped by 2 Newlands Street to enquire whether Susan would like a copy of the evening paper. Susan invited John in and took the paper, but when John asked her to pay Susan lost control and throttled the helpless lad crushing his windpipe. Some accounts say that John was also battered about the head resulting in several fractures and his body had extensive burns. Was a woman really capable of such brutality?
When young Janet came home from playing in the street she found her mother with the body of John. Susan urged Janet to help her wrap the body in a quilt before the retired for the night. In next morning Susan and Janet loaded John's body into a old pram and set off, with Janet perched on top of the bundle, towards Duke street in Glasgow. Susan accepted a lift from a passing Lorry driver Thomas Dickson, who dropped them off in Duke's Street. As Thomas was helping lift the pram down from the lorry the bundle came undone a little and the top of John's head and his foot became visible. Thomas failed to notice this, but a neighbour, Helen Elliot did notice.
|John and Susan Newell at their trial|
Helen Elliot called her sister and together they decided to follow Susan to see what she was up to. The sisters followed Susan to 650 Duke Street, where the bumped into Robert Foote and James Campbell. Robert and James took over tailing Susan while Helen and her sister went to alert the police.
Susan was caught clambering over a wall adjoining two greens. Discovered dumped near a tenement in Duke Street, wrapped in a red quilt was the body of a teenage boy. Susan and her husband John Newell were arrested for his murder. John Newell was able to provide alibis to his whereabouts at the time of the murder and as a result was found not guilty of John Johnson's murder. Susan was not as lucky, her own daughter's evidence against her was damning. Despite protesting her innocence throughout her trial Susan was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
Susan was executed by John Ellis with William Willis assisting at Glasgow Prison in Duke Street, the same street John's body was dumped. Ellis disliked executing woman and in his hurry to get the ordeal over with quickly he failed to pinion her wrists properly. Susan was able to work her hands free and tear the white hoof off her head saying 'don't put that thing over me!' John Ellis proceeded with the execution minus the hood.
|Glasgow Prison in Duke Street|
Was Susan really guilty of killing John Johnson? Was a woman capable of inflicting the brutal wounds suffered by the boy? Did her husband have more to do with the murder? These are answers Susan took to her grave.
Monday, 18 June 2012
On 2nd April 1868 Frances Kidder met her maker at the end of William Calcraft's rope. She had been convicted of killing her step daughter Louisa Staples-Kidder. She became the last woman to be publicly hanged in England.
Frances Kidder was born Frances Turner in 1843 in New Romney, Kent to John an agricultural labourer and Frances Turner nee Drury. In 1861 Frances was working as a house servant for John English, a bookmaker and newsagent and his family in Folkstone. Some time in 1865 Frances met greengrocer William Henry Kidder and became pregnant by him, they had a daughter Emma and married later that year. However unknown to Frances, William already had an illegitimate child with his house servant Eliza Staple, 8 year old Louisa. Eliza had died in 1863, so Louisa came to live with Frances, William and their daughter Emma.
By some accounts Louisa was a spirited child and relations with her step mother never really flourished. Frances disliked Louisa and metered out regular beatings as well as depriving the child of food and forcing her to wear rags. The Kidder's neighbours even reported Frances for shutting Louisa out of the house irrespective of the weather. Frances was fined for her abuse of Louisa and the child was sent to live with a guardian. Unfortunately for Louisa, her father fell behind in his maintenance payments to the guardian and Louisa was sent back to her step mother's house, the abuse resumed.
One day in July 1867 whilst helping William with his potato dealing, Frances was involved in a accident and fell from the back of the cart, hitting her head when their horse bolted. According to William -
"She was in a fit for about four hours and she has been strange in her head ever since."
Some believe this accident caused brain damage and may have paved the way for what was to happen barely a month later. In the August of 1867 Frances took Emma and Louisa to visit her parents John and Frances in New Romney. During her stay she confessed to one neighbour -
“I mean to get rid of that bitch Kidder’s child. I hate the sight of her because she is always making mischief. I do not like other people’s bastards.”Whilst her parents were out Frances took the opportunity to take action on her earlier threat. She took Louisa on a walk with the promise of visiting a nearby fair. As they were walking over Cobb's Bridge in Romney Marsh Frances grabbed Louisa and pushed her face down into the water filled ditch and drowned Louisa less then a foot of water. When Frances and Louisa had failed to return to the Turners home her father and William went out to search for them. A little while later Frances turned up at her parents house without Louisa and refused to tell anyone her whereabouts. Fearing the worst William and Frances's father contacted the police.
|Bridge on Romney Marsh|
Constable Aspinall arrested Frances under the suspicion of murder. It was then that Frances finally revealed Louisa's location, stating that the girl had been frightened by passing horses and fell from the bridge into the water. She had tried to rescue Louisa but was unable to do so. Constable Aspinall said of the search for Louisa's body -
“It was a clear star lit night and we were furnished with lamps. There was a very heavy dew on the grass. Someone noticed something white in the ditch. I threw my light in that direction, it was the body. She was lying on her back, her head was under the water.”Frances was taken to Kent Spring Assizes and charged with the murder of her step daughter. Frances continued to protest her innocence but finally confessed to Rev Fraser whilst awaiting her execution in the condemned cell at Maidstone Prison.
Public anger towards Frances and her crime ran high and over 2,000 people turned out to watch her hang.
On 29th May 1868 Parliament passed the Capital Punishment Within Prisons bill, Ending all public hangings.
Monday, 11 June 2012
|Artist's impression of Elizabeth Browne's hanging|
On a drizzly morning in August, Elizabeth Martha Browne met her maker at the end of William Calcraft's rope. She had murdered her second husband John Browne, twenty years her junior, with and axe becoming the last woman publicly executed in Dorset, England.
Not much is known about Elizabeth before her arrest and trial. Her place of birth is unknown and the year estimated at around 1811, but her date of death - 9th August 1856 - is cemented in history.
John and Elizabeth's marriage was not a happy one. Some accounts say that John only married Elizabeth for her money and that John had several affairs during the course of their marriage. It was an argument about one of these alleged affairs with a Mary Davis that sealed John's fate. Elizabeth had struck John with a wood chopping axe several times, shattering his skull. Upon her arrest Elizabeth told police that John had received his injuries from a 'horse kick to the head'. However she later confessed that she had accused him of being at Mary Davis's house when he had failed to return home for supper.
"He then kicked out the bottom of the chair on which I had been sitting, and we continued quarrelling until 3 o’clock, when he struck me a severe blow on the side of the head, which confused me so much I was obliged to sit down.
He then said (supper being on the table at the time) “Eat it yourself and be damned,” and reached down from the mantelpiece a heavy hand whip, with a plaited head and struck me across the shoulders with it 3 times, and every time I screamed out I said “if you strike me again, I will cry murder” He replied “if you do I will knock your brains through the window,” and said hoped he should find me dead in the morning, and then kicked me on the left side, which caused me much pain.
He immediately stooped down to unbuckle his boots, and being much enraged, and in an ungovernable passion at being so abused and struck, I seized a hatchet that was lying close to where I sat, and which I had been making use of to break coal for keeping up the fire to keep his supper warm, and struck him several violent blows on the head – I could not say how many – and he fell at the first blow on his side, with his face to the fireplace and he never spoke or moved afterwards."A crowd of around 3-4,000 people turned out to watch the rare event of a woman being hanged. One of those spectators was a 16 year old Thomas Hardy. The hanging left a lasting impression on Thomas Hardy and many believe it was the inspiration behind his novel Tess of the D'Urbvilles. Thomas Hardy wrote of the hanging seven decades later:
"I saw — they had put a cloth over the face — how, as the cloth got wet, her features came through it. That was extraordinary.
I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half round and back."
Monday, 4 June 2012
On the 9th August 1886, Mary Ann Britland met her maker at the end of James Berry's rope. The first woman to hang at Strangeways Prison
Mary Ann Britland was born Mary Ann Hague in 1847, Oldham Lancashire. The eldest daughter of Jonathan and Hannah (nee Lee) Hague.
In 1866 she married Thomas Britland, a domestic servant. They had two daughters together, Elizabeth Hannah in 1867 and Susannah in 1868. The 1871 Census shows them living at Park Bridge, Ashton-under-Lyne before they moved to 133 Turner Lane where they can be found on the 1881 Census, later they moved to 92 Turner Lane. Mary Ann worked two jobs to help make ends meet. A cotton reeler in a factory by day and a barmaid by night.
However by the February of 1886 the Britland home was not a happy one. Mary Ann had taken up an affair with her neighbour Thomas Dixon, who lived across the street at 128 Turner Lane. Mary Ann had purchased some Harrison's Vermin Killer from her local chemist supposedly to rid her home of mice. Harrison's Vermin Killer contained both strychnine and arsenic and thus Mary Ann was required to sign the poisons register.
Soon afterwards Mary Ann's 19 year old daughter Elizabeth Hannah became deathly ill. Elizabeth was to die on 9th March of 1886, her death attributed to natural causes, leaving Mary Ann free to collect the £10 life insurance policy. Thomas Britland was to follow his daughter on 3rd May of 1886 from suspected epilepsy. Again Mary Ann collected the £10 life insurance policy.
Feeling sorry for her recently bereaved neighbour Mary Dixon the wife of Mary Ann's love interest invited her over to 128 Turner Lane for supper and to stay the night. The kindhearted Mary was soon to become Mary Ann's third victim, she passed away on 14th May after a sudden illness.
Three people in the same street, all dying within a few months of the exact same symptoms could not be ignored. A paper of the time reports:
"Suspicious Neighbours Alert the Police
Mrs Britland, who worked as a reeler in a factory, lived at 92 Turner Lane, Ashton-under-Lyne with her husband Thomas, and daughter Elizabeth Ann, who died suddenly on 9th March. Mrs Britland’s husband died on the 3rd of May, suffering suspected epilepsy and the third death, that of Mary Dixon, wife of Thomas Dixon, the Britlands’ neighbours, occurred on 14th May [both couples were Thomas and Mary]. It was only after Mary Dixon’s death that suspicions were aroused and other neighbours contacted the police. It subsequently transpired that Mrs Britland claimed £10 life insurance on her daughter’s death and on the day of her husband’s death, but prior to his becoming ill, she paid up arrears on his life insurance policy."
Mary Ann was questioned by police in connection with Mary Dixon's death and the body was examined by a pathologist. The body was found to contain lethal levels of both arsenic and strychnine, the two main ingredients in Harrison's Vermin Killer. Mary Ann and Thomas Dixon were arrested on suspicion of murder. As soon as Mary Ann arrived at Ashton police station she made a full confession, stating that she had first poisoned her daughter as she believed Elizabeth suspected the affair between her and Thomas Dixon and was about to tell her husband. She then killed her husband and finally Mary Dixon in the hope that Thomas Dixon would later marry her.
|Manchester Assizes 1886 (c) Manchester Libraries|
Thomas Dixon was found to have played no part in the murder of his wife and was released without charge. How much he knew of Mary Ann's intentions is not clear, but he testified against her during her trial at Manchester Assizes.
"Mr Dixon Describes the Last Supper
On the night his wife fell ill, Mr Dixon and his wife had been together until 8 o’clock, and then gone separate ways. Mr Dixon did not get home until 10 and when he got home learned his wife had asked Mrs Britland to come and have supper and get ready for bed. For their supper they had bread and butter, tea and mixed pickles. He could not tell if his wife had anything at Mrs Britland’s house. He had known Mrs Britland for three years, and she had been at his house 10 days before his wife died. His wife was insured in two companies, and he had received more than £29 from them."
On 22nd July, after four hours deliberation the jury found Mary Ann Britland guilty of murder. She was sentenced to death. The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser reported on 24th July:
“Mrs Britland, whose demeanour in the dock had been remarkable for coolness and self-possession, utterly broke down under the capital sentence, and was removed from the dock shrieking loudly.”
Mary Ann Britland was hung at Strangeways Prison on the morning of 9th August 1886. The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, reported:
“The scene, whilst the procession was moving from the condemned cell to the scaffold, was very painful. The voice of the chaplain as he read the prayers was completely drowned by the wild appeals of Britland as she cried: ‘Oh Lord have mercy! Oh Lord forgive me!’ She was supported on the scaffold by two female warders and, when once there, everything was soon over."
|Strangeways Prison 1951 (c) Manchester Libraries|
Mary Ann was buried within the grounds of Strangeways, but she was not to rest in peace. During the 1990 riots much of the prison facility was damaged and had to be rebuilt. During this time the prison cemetery was demolished and the remains of between 60 -100 executed prisoners were cremated and interred in a communal grave at Blackley Cemetery.