Because Mondays are MURDER...

Monday, 23 June 2014

Murderous Monday - Men Who Kill - John Carter - Wife Killer

On Tuesday 5th December 1893 at Reading Gaol, John Carter a cowman from Watchfield, Berkshire met his marker at the end of James Billington's rope for the murder of his third wife Rhoda Carter nee Titcombe.

John Carter was born in 1850 In Wachfield, Berkshire to William Carter, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Elizabeth Anger.  John first appear on the 1851 Census aged eleven years living with his parents and siblings in Watchfield, Berkshire.

On 17th July 1871 John Carter married his first wife, Elizabeth Ann Thatcher in Farringdon, Berkshire.  Together John and Elizabeth had six children together, Elizabeth "Annie", Clara, Elizabeth Louisa who sadly died in infancy, Martha, Thomas and William Henry.  The 1881 Census shows John and Elizabeth, along with Annie, Clara and Martha, living in Cottage House in Worton Hamlet, Cassington, Oxfordshire. 

On 18th June 1887 the marriage ended when Elizabeth mysteriously fell down the stairs at Broadleaze Farm in Watchfield, breaking her neck.  The coroner recorded the death as accidental.  Later that year on 19th October John Carter married his second wife, Elizabeth Ann Alder.  John and Elizabeth had one child together, a son Nelson.  In the September of 1889 Elizabeth mysteriously disappeared.

In 1893 John married again, this time to Rhoda Ann Titcombe.  Three months after their marriage things began to sour.  On the night of 20th June 1893 young Thomas Carter lay awake in bed with his younger brother:

"At 11 p.m. on 20 July 1893, 9-year-old Thomas Carter lay in bed with his younger brother listening to an almighty row between his parents; a not unusual event. At just after 11.30 p.m., he heard his mother Rhoda cry, ‘No, John, no!’, then almost beseechingly, ‘Lord have mercy on me,’ followed by silence. The Carter children, who were farmer boys, were up at 4.30 a.m. the following morning to do their chores. Afterwards, as they ate their breakfast, Thomas noticed his father acting in an unusual way. He had lugged a large bath and firewood into the smithy that adjoined the cottage. These items were followed by two more; a pitchfork and a shovel. Both boys knew better than to question their father so they made their way to school in silence."

Rhoda's family become suspicious of her sudden disappearance:

"Mrs Titcombe, Rhoda’s mother, lived with her son David a few yards away. At 9 a.m. on 21 July, she knocked on Carter’s door but got no reply. Through the window though, she could see Rhoda’s new green coat hanging on the kitchen door. Also, only three breakfasts had been laid on the table. Turning, she saw Carter leaving the smithy. She enquired of Rhoda. ‘Gone to her sisters at Eastleech’ came the surly reply. She was then ignored. ‘How long will she be gone?’ ‘Didn’t say, day or two.’ Carter entered and closed the smithy door. Anne Butler, Rhoda’s friend, was hanging out clothes when she noticed thick black smoke accompanied by a sickly stench coming from the smithy. Anne crossed the road and hammered on the smithy door. ‘Where is Rhoda?’ enquired Anne. ‘Go away, you are a loose woman. Rhoda’s up at Eastleech’, was the reply."

Suspicions in the village grew as thick smoke was seen billowing from the smithy attached to John Carter's cottage:

"When smoke was seen gushing from the smithy again on 22 July, David Titcombe knocked on the door. Not being satisfied with Carter’s explanation that he was boiling up offal, David decided to make the thirty mile round trip to Eastleech by bike and also to send Anne Butler for the police. PC Sparkes made a couple of cursory calls at Carter’s farm, without finding John Carter. He was pretty sure that Rhoda was alright and that her brother would have found her at Eastleech. When news came to the contrary, he became alarmed and made a successful effort at contacting Carter. He searched the farm in Carter’s presence and became very suspicious. ‘She’s left me,’ stated Carter. Sparkes thought to himself that it was strange that a woman would depart leaving all her good clothes behind."

However John Carter couldn't keep his terrible secret forever:

"On 25 July, Carter had a drink with his brother in Wantage and confessed to him that he had killed his wife. At 9 a.m. on 26 July, after wrestling with his conscience all night, Carter’s brother walked into Wantage police station and reported Carter’s confession. John Carter was arrested at 11 a.m. Shortly after, Sergeant Benning and PC Sparkes searched Carter’s barn. Three inches under the floor, Rhoda’s body was discovered, the nose smashed and with horrific bruising around the throat. The body had been burned and boiled."

Unsurprisingly speculation was now rife about the death of John Carter's first wife and the disappearance of his second.  A search of Broadleaze Farm where John and Elizabeth worked at the time was made.  Whilst the search was underway John Carter was tried and found guilty of the murder of his third wife Rhoda and he was hanged on Tuesday 5th December 1893.  On the Wednesday after the police made a shocking discovery:

"Colonel Blandy, chief constable of Berkshire, and Superintendent Butcher, of Farringdon, resumed the search on Wednesday, for the missing body of the second wife of Carter.  Digging was carried out on several places and after about two hours' hard work a perfect skeleton was discovered buried about a foot below the surface of the ground, in the rick yard of Broadleaze Farm, Shrivenham, where Carter was employed, and about 100 yards from the cottage where he lived.  The police were induced to resume their search for the missing woman, in consequence of the confession made by Carter.

Coroner's Inquest

On Friday at the Barrington Arms, Shrivenham, Mr. Jotcham, coroner for West Berkshire, opened and inquest on the skeleton found at Broadleaze Farm, about two miles distant in the same parish.

A complete skeleton was found discovered about 10 feet below the surface.  What seemed to be the remains of a flannel petticoat was round the body, stockings on the legs, and the busks of a pair of stays were also found.  The skull was intact, and the jaw contained a fine set of white teeth.

Dr Coniston Spackman, of Farringdon, said he examined the remains found.  They belong to a female of medium height, and when put together formed a compete skeleton.  The nose seemed as thought it had been smashed.  There were no signs of strangulation."

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