On Thursday 24th November 1910 at Reading Prison at eight o'clock in the morning William Broome, alias Brooks met his maker at the end of John Ellis's rope for the brutal murder of Mrs Isabella Wilson.
Isabella Wilson was born Isabella Fletcher in 1841 in Towcester, Northamptonshire, in 1857 she married chimney sweep Richard Wilson of Maidenhead in Eton, Buckinghamshire. Sadly the marriage didn't produce any surviving children. Isabella and Richard moved address frequently until Richard's death in 1896. In 1901 the recently widowed Isabella is working as a wardrobe purchaser and living at 14 Dellary's Road in Surbiton, Surrey. By 1904 Isabella had moved to 22 High Street, Slough, where she ran a second-hand clothing shop. Next door at number 20 was a branch of Singer's, selling sewing machines.
Not much is known about William Broome, he was born around 1885 and served as a regular in the Northamptonshire Regiment during the Boer War and then later served in the Berkshire Yeomanry. His father was the manager of the branch of Singer's next door to Isabella Wilson's shop.
Isabella was quite elderly and while her health was good, the vision in one of her eyes was quite poor, for this reason her sister Mariah and her brother in law Edward White would often visit Isabella of an evening, to check she was okay. Isabella had a rather concerning habit of carrying large amounts of money about her person wrapped in a purse concealed under her dress. This made her a target for robbery.
|Slough High Street c1909|
Copyright Slough Library
During the day of Friday 15th July 1910 nothing extraordinary was noted, however when Mariah and Edward White dropped in to visit Isabella something was a miss. Edward White recalls:
"We arrived there at about twenty past seven, but when we got opposite the shop we saw a motor-bicycle outside. The handles of the machine were resting against the window, and thinking it was a customer engaged in the shop we did not go in, but decided to do our shopping first and call back on the old lady. We had been to see her the night before and she was all right.
At about eight o'clock we returned, when the shop door was open as usual, and the motor-bicycle was gone. As soon as we got into the shop we noticed that the middle door entering the living room was nearly closed. This was unusual, as Mrs Wilson always kept it open so she could see into the shop. When we saw that the door was closed we wondered what the matter was, and I called out, thinking she might have gone to sleep. There was no answer, and on pulling the door open and looking into the room, we saw that she was lying on the floor. She was in the habit of having a nap in the afternoon, and I though she might have fainted and fallen off the sofa. When we got to her, however, we found she was cold, and at once saw that there had been foul play. The cushion from the couch was tied tightly over her face with a piece of gauze or string which went right around her neck and the knot was so tight that we could not release it. Her hands were tied together with a pocket handkerchief and were across her breast. My wife tried to get the cushion off her face while I at once went for Dr Fraser, who lives a few doors down. He came back to the store and found that she was dead. There was a wound on the left side of her head, by the ear, as though she had been struck by some instrument, and the blood had trickled down over her face. Her purse was on the table, cut open. It had been emptied. This was the purse she wore under her dress. The purse lay by and ordinary table knife, which had evidentially had been used for cutting it open. There was also some bread and cheese on the table. We went upstairs to see in anything was missing, and found that her room had been ransacked. Some of the boxes were lying open, but there were one or two locked, which had not been forced."
It was clear that the motive for Mrs Wilson's murder had been theft. Mrs Wilson's skull hand been fractured from blows to her face with a heavy blunt instrument, her hands showed defensive wounds from her attempting to ward off the attack, however the cause of death had been suffocation from the cushion tied to her face. The time of her death was placed around early afternoon.
Soon after the murder had been made public several witnesses can forward to report a suspicious character seen in the area at the time of the murder. That suspicious character was identified as William Brooks.
|Slough High Street c1910|
Copyright Slough Library
Brooks was eventually arrested on the 17th July in Harlesden, London, he was found to have two parallel scratches on his right cheek. A statement taken.
"I make the flowing statement voluntarily and of my own free will: I reside at No. 146, Albany-street, and occupied the front room second floor. Previously I lodged at Albert-street, Regents Park.
On Friday morning last, the 15th, I got up about 8:30 a.m., and after having a wash, etc., I went out. I don't think I saw anyone in the house that morning. I went to the place in Villiers-street [a café], and had some breakfast. The woman there always served me. It is about half-way down on the left side. I then proceeded to Scotland Yard and went to the public carriage branch. I saw an officer at the window and handed in a form filled up which I had previously received at the same office. The officer called my attention to time. It was then 10:20 a.m., and he said 'You are too late for to-day. You must call some other day at 10 a.m. sharp.' I then left the office and remained in the yard where they test the cab drivers who are applying for licences. I remained there until about 1 p.m.
Then I went to the public house - I think the Trafalgar - in St Martin's Lane, and I had a piece of bread and cheese and a glass of stout, for which I paid 3d. Then I went to my lodgings at 146, Albany-street. As I went in I saw the servant in the passage. She might not have been the servant but a woman living in the house. I did not speak to her. I did not pass her as she was standing at the end of the passage furthest from the door. I sat in my room reading a newspaper for an hour or so. I was not reading all the time, but messing about. I left my lodgings about 2:30 that afternoon. I had a walk around and went to Edgware-road. I went into a grocer's shop near Cambridge-terrace and wrote a post-card to my girl, Miss Bunce. I think she lives in Camden Town. I have known her on and off for about six months and I did not know her address until about a week ago. I posted the card at about 3 p.m.
I then went to Hyde Park and met a fellow I know by sight. I cannot recollect his name but I think it starts with a 'P.' I reached the park about 4 p.m., and left there between 5 and 6 p.m. I then returned to my lodgings and as I passes upstairs I saw the landlady in the front room. I wished her 'Good afternoon.' I stayed in my room and hour and a half, had a wash, a read, etc. afterwards I went out to a picture show near the Britannia public house, Camden Town. I remained there about two hours and then went home, arriving there about half past ten. I don't think I saw anyone as I went in. I went straight to bed and remained there until about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The scratches I have on my right cheek were done last Saturday by a man I had a few words with outside the Britannia public house, Camden Town. It was given me during the scuffle and my eye has been discoloured. The man who did it employs I man I know by the name of 'Ginger' to collect bets for him in and around the lavatory outside the Britannia."
|The Britannia, Camden Town|
Source - Pubs History
There were several untruths in William's statement. Firstly an officer from the Public Carriage Department of New Scotland Yard testified that he had seen William Broome on Saturday 16th July at 10:35 when he handed in an application form, not Friday 15th as stated by William. Also the police officer noticed marks on William's face that seemed to be a day or so old. Dr Alexander Carson Smythe was able to testify that the scratches on William's right cheek where in his opinion caused by human fingernails and not by the buttons of a coat as William had stated later.
But perhaps the nail in William coffin were the five witnesses that placed him in the area at the time of the murder.
One witness, Thomas George Dellar testified that having known William by sight for the past two and a half years saw him near 22 High Street, Slough around the hours of 1 and 2 p.m.
William was unemployed and facing financial difficulties. It was found that a few days before the murder William had tried to sell a diamond and ruby brooch without success. There had also been some difficulties in getting his Army reservist pay. Having lived next door to Mrs Wilson for the past two and a half years, William was familiar with her habits, especially that of her having a nap in living room behind the shop at 1 p.m. everyday. It seemed William had the motive and the means.
On 23rd October 1910, the jury found William Broome guilty of the wilful murder of Mrs Isabella Wilson and he was subsequently sentenced to death. William immediately appealed the courts decision, however the case was dismissed.
William never confessed to the crime and walked to the scaffold unaided.