HANGED FEMALES IN BRITAIN SINCE 1900

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Capital punishment in the United Kingdom was used from the creation of the state in 1707 until the practice was abolished in the 20th century. The last executions in the United Kingdom, by hanging, took place in 1964, prior to capital punishment being abolished for murder (in 1969 in Great Britain and in 1973 in Northern Ireland). Although not applied since, the death penalty was abolished in all circumstances in 1998. In 2004 the 13th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights became binding on the United Kingdom, prohibiting the restoration of the death penalty for as long as the UK is a party to the Convention.

Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck".

There are four ways of performing a judicial hanging – suspension hanging, the short drop, the standard drop, and the long drop. A mechanised form of hanging, the upright jerker, was also experimented with in the 18th century.

A hanging may induce one or more of the following medical conditions, some leading to death:

  • Closure of carotid arteries causing cerebral ischemia
  • Closure of the jugular veins
  • Induction of carotid sinus reflex death, which reduces heartbeat when the pressure in the carotid arteries is high, causing cardiac arrest
  • Breaking of the neck (cervical fracture) causing traumatic spinal cord injury or even decapitation
  • Closure of the airway
  • Death erection

The cause of death in hanging depends on the conditions related to the event. When the body is released from a relatively high position, the major cause of death is severe trauma to the upper cervical spine. However, the injuries produced are highly variable. One study showed that only a small minority of a series of judicial hangings produced fractures to the cervical spine (6 out of 34 cases studied), with half of these fractures (3 out of 34) being the classic "hangman's fracture" (bilateral fractures of the pars interarticularis of the C2 vertebra). The location of the knot of the hanging rope is a major factor in determining the mechanics of cervical spine injury, with a submental knot (hangman's knot under the chin) being the only location capable of producing the sudden, straightforward hyperextension injury that causes the classic "hangman's fracture".

As a form of judicial execution in England, hanging is thought to date from the Anglo-Saxon period.Records of the names of British hangmen begin with Thomas de Warblynton in the 1360s;complete records extend from the 16th century to the last hangmen, Robert Leslie Stewart and Harry Allen, who conducted the last British executions in 1964.

At the beginning of the 19th century, children in Britain were punished in the same way as adults. They were even sentenced to death for petty theft.In 1814 five child criminals under the age of fourteen were hanged at the Old Bailey, the youngest being only eight years old.Until 1868 hangings were performed in public. In London, the traditional site was at Tyburn, a settlement west of the City on the main road to Oxford, which was used on eight hanging days a year, though before 1865, executions had been transferred to the street outside Newgate Prison, Old Bailey, now the site of the Central Criminal Court.

In 1957, in an attempt to prevent the abolition of capital punishment completely, two levels of murder were defined: First Degree murder and Second Degree with only First Degree murder carrying the death penalty.

In 1965, Parliament passed the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, temporarily abolishing capital punishment for murder for 5 years. The Act was renewed in 1969, making the abolition permanent. And with the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, the death penalty was officially abolished for all crimes in both civilian and military cases. Following its complete abolition, the gallows were removed from Wandsworth Prison, where they remained in full working order until that year.

The last woman to be hanged was Ruth Ellis on July 13, 1955, by Albert Pierrepoint who was a prominent hangman in the 20th century in England. The last hanging in Britain took place in 1964, when Peter Anthony Allen, at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and Gwynne Owen Evans, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester were executed for the murder of John Alan West.

In the UK, some felons were traditionally executed by hanging with a silken rope:

  • poachers who killed the "King's royal deer".
  • hereditary peers who committed capital offences. However, it has been claimed that the execution of Earl Ferrers in 1760 – the only time a peer was hanged after trial by the House of Lords – was carried out with the normal hempen rope instead of a silk one. The writ of execution does not specify a silk rope be used,and the Newgate Calendar makes no mention of the use of such an item– an unusual omission given its highly sensationalist nature.
  • Those who have the Freedom of the City of London.

 

Last executions in the UK.

On the 26th of May 1868, Michael Barrett, a Fenian, (what would now be called an I.R.A. terrorist) became the last man to be publicly hanged in England, before a huge crowd outside Newgate prison, for causing an explosion at Clerkenwell in London which killed Sarah Ann Hodgkinson and six other innocent people. Three days later on the 29th of May 1868. Parliament passed the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act, ending public hanging. Frances Kidder was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Britain, when she was executed at Maidstone at midday on Thursday, the 2nd of April 1868. Strangely the last fully public hanging in the British Isles did not take place until the 11th of August 1875, when Joseph Phillip Le Brun was executed for murder on the island of Jersey. The provisions of the Capital Punishment Amendment Act of 1868 did not apply there.
Ruth Ellis was the last woman to suffer the death penalty in Britain on the 13th of July 1955.  Wales had its last execution on the 6th of May 1958, when Vivian Teed was hanged for the murder of William Williams at Swansea. The last hanging in Northern Ireland was that of Robert McGladdery on the 20th of December 1961 at Belfast for the murder of Pearle Gamble. 21 year old Henry Burnett was the last person hanged in Scotland in the newly refurbished Condemned Suite at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen on the 15th of August 1963 for the murder of Thomas Guyan. The last hangings of all in Britain were two carried out simultaneously at 8.00 a.m. on August the 13th, 1964 at Liverpool's Walton prison and Strangeways prison in Manchester, when Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans were executed for the murder of John West.

A total of 17 women were executed by hanging in 20th century Britain.

In 8 of these cases, gain would appear to be the principal motive. Of these, four were "baby farmers" who were regarded as wholly despicable and got no public sympathy.

Six were hanged for "love" related crimes.
Five suffered for murdering their husbands and one for murdering her boyfriend.
Four were poisoners - Poison has often been said to be the woman's method of choice because its administration requires no physical strength. It has always been thought that the Home Office had an un-written rule - that poisoners and gun murderers were never reprieved.
Two were executed for child murder (other than the baby farming cases).

Hanged Females In Britain Since 1900

  • Masset, Louisa (Louise) Josephine, hanged at London's Newgate prison by James Billington on Tuesday, the 9th of January, 1900. Thirty six year old Louisa Masset killed her four year old son, Manfred, and dumped his naked body in the ladies’ toilet at Dalston Junction railway station in London. The reason for the murder is that Manfred was a hindrance to her relationship with her boyfriend, so she took him to the station and battered him and suffocated him to death. Hers was the first British execution of the 20th century.
  • Chard Williams, Ada, hanged at Newgate prison in London by James Billington on Tuesday, the 6th of March, 1900.
    Twenty four year old Ada Chard-Williams was convicted of drowning a small child whom she had "adopted" for a few pounds. She was suspected of killing other children and was another "baby farmer."  She was the last woman to hang at Newgate, subsequent female executions in London taking place at the newly converted women's prison at Holloway.
  • Daly, Mary. 40 year old Mary Daly was hanged by William Billington at Tullamore prison in Ireland on Friday, the 9th of January, 1903 for the murder of her husband John. Her co-accused, Joseph Taylor, was executed two days earlier.
  • Walters, Annie. Fifty four year old Walters was hanged at Holloway Tuesday, the 3rd of February, 1903 with Amelia Sach. Theirs was the last double female execution and the first and only double at Holloway.
  • Sach, Amelia, hanged by William Billington and Henry Pierrepoint at Holloway prison together with Annie Walters on Tuesday, the 3rd of February, 1903. Twenty nine year old Amelia Sach was another "baby farmer" and she and Walters became the first women to hang at Holloway which had become London's women's prison. Previously, female executions were carried out at Newgate.
  • Swann, Emily, hanged by John Billington and John Ellis at Armley jail Leeds on Tuesday, the 29th of December, 1903.
    Emily Swann, 42, went to the gallows with her 30-year old lover John Gallagher for the murder of Swann's husband, William. Hooded and noosed on the trap doors, Emily said "Good morning John" to which he replied "Good morning love."  Emily replied "Goodbye, God bless you" before the drop fell ending any more conversation.
  • Willis, Rhoda, also known as Leslie James was hanged by Henry and Tom Pierrepoint at Cardiff prison on Wednesday, the 14th of August, 1907. Willis, 44, was another baby farmer and was executed for the murder of a one day old girl child by the surname of Treasure. She was an attractive woman and her blaze of golden hair had a profound effect on Henry Pierrepoint.  She was the last woman to be hanged for baby farming.
  • Thompson, Edith Jessie, hanged by John Ellis at Holloway prison on Tuesday, the 9th of January, 1923. 
    Edith Thompson aged 28 and her lover Frederick Bywaters were hanged in separate prisons at 9.00 a.m. on this day for the murder, by stabbing, of Edith's husband, Percy. Her execution caused considerable public disquiet as many doubted her guilt and the meaning of the various love letters that passed between her and Bywaters. She had to be carried to the gallows and it was reported that her underwear was covered in blood after the hanging. John Ellis committed suicide in 1932 and like everyone else present had been deeply affected by this execution.
    The bodies of Edith Thompson and Stylou Christofi were reburied in an unmarked pauper's grave in Brookwood, Surrey when Holloway was rebuilt in 1970.
  • Newell, Susan, hanged by John Ellis at Duke Street prison, Glasgow on Wednesday, the 10th of October, 1923.
    Susan Newell, aged 30, strangled newspaper boy John Johnston who would not give her an evening paper without the money. Having killed the boy, she wheeled his body through the streets on a handcart accompanied by her eight year old daughter, Janet, whose evidence helped to convict her. She was the first woman to hang in Scotland since Jessie King in 1889 and on the gallows, refused the traditional white hood.
  • Calvert, Louie, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Strangeways prison Manchester on Thursday, the 24th of June, 1926.
    Louie Calvert, also 33, had criminal tendencies and was known to the police. She battered and strangled her landlady, Mrs. Lily Waterhouse, who had confronted her over things that had gone missing from the house and had reported Louie to the police. In the condemned cell, she also admitted to the murder of a previous employer - John Frobisher - in 1922. She was the first woman to be hanged at Stangeways since Mary Ann Britland in 1886.
  • Major, Ethel Lillie, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Hull prison on Wednesday, the 19th of December, 1934. Forty three year old Ethel Major poisoned her husband, Arthur, with strychnine and her ghost is said to still haunt the prison.
  • Waddingham, Dorothea, hanged by Tom and Albert Pierrepoint at Birmingham's Winson Green prison on Friday, the 16th of April, 1936. Thirty six year old "nurse" Waddingham, as she called herself, used morphine to poison one of her elderly patients, 89 year old Mrs. Louisa Baguley and her disabled daughter, Ada, the motive being gain.
  • Bryant, Charlotte, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Exeter on Thursday the 15th of July 1936. Charlotte Bryant (33) was convicted of poisoning her husband with arsenic. She was having an affair with their lodger and it seemed a simple way to remove her husband from the scene. Whilst awaiting execution, her previously black hair turned completely white.
  • Allen, Margaret hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Strangeways prison in Manchester on Wednesday, the 12th of January, 1949. Margaret "Bill" Allen was a 42 year old "butch" lesbian who battered elderly widow Nancy Ellen Chadwick to death with a hammer. Mrs. Chadwick had been her neighbour and had irritated her in various ways. She readily confessed to the police and was convicted after a short trial. This was the first female execution in England for 12 years.
  • Merrifield, Louisa, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Strangeways on Friday, the 18th of September, 1953.
    Louisa Merrifield, 44, poisoned her employer, Mrs. Sarah Ann Rickets for whom she worked as housekeeper, to get her home which had been left to Louisa under her newly changed will. She used a phosphorus based rat poison called Rodine and was tried with her husband, Alfred, who was acquitted.
  • Christofi, Styllou, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at London's Holloway women's prison on Monday, the 13th of December, 1954. Styllou Christofi, 53, was a Greek woman who brutally murdered her German born daughter-in-law, Hella, by battering her and then strangling her. Afterwards, she tried to burn her body. It is thought that she had also committed another murder in Cyprus. She asked for a Maltese Cross to be put on the wall of the execution chamber and this wish was granted - it remained there until the room was dismantled in 1967. Coincidentally, the murder was committed in the same street where a few months later Ruth Ellis was to commit hers - South Hill Park, Camden in London.
  • Ellis, Ruth, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Holloway prison, North London on Wednesday, the 13th of July, 1955.
    Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be executed in Britain - for the murder of her boyfriend David Blakely, who had refused to see her over the Easter of 1955. She lay in wait for him outside the Magdala pub and when he came out, shot him 5 times with a revolver. She was arrested immediately by an off-duty policeman and equally quickly convicted by an Old Bailey jury. Her execution caused a great deal of public controversy at the time.

 

Louise Josephine Jemima Masset

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Louisa (or Louise) Josephine Jemima Masset was the first person to be executed in Britain in the 20th century.

She was hanged at Newgate prison on Tuesday, the 9th of January 1900 for the murder of her son. (Her name is also given as Louisa.)

Background.

Louisa was 36 years old and was half French (on her father's side) and half English. She was described as a "cultured" woman. On April the 24th, 1896 she gave birth to an illegitimate son called Manfred and felt forced to leave France due to the stigma attached to illegitimate births in those days - it was considered "quite scandalous."  She came to England and settled at 29 Bethune Road Stoke Newington in London. It does not seem as if she was very maternal and soon placed Manfred in foster care with a Mrs. Helen Gentle who lived in Tottenham.  Mrs. Gentle looked after Manfred from a baby and was paid 37 shillings a month (£1.85 or about $3), which allegedly came from the child's natural father in France. This arrangement enabled Louisa to work as a day-governess for a wealthy family. She also gave piano lessons. Playing the piano was a popular form of entertainment in those days before cinema, radio and television.

Sometime in 1899, Louisa took on a "toy boy," 19 year old Eudore Lucas as her lover. Eudore was a young French bank clerk who lived next door to her and was in Britain training in finance. He was paid about £3 a week, which both agreed made marriage out of the question. Eudore was aware that Louise had a son, although what his attitude was to Manfred is unclear.
On the 16th of October 1899, Mrs. Gentle received a letter from Louisa telling her Manfred's father was going to have the boy to live with him in France and that Louisa would collect him on Friday, October 27th to take him to France. However, Louisa had also made another arrangement, she was going to Brighton with Eudore for what could be described as a "dirty weekend" and they had booked two adjoining rooms in a cheap hotel there.

The crime.

On the Friday, Louisa put a clinker brick from her garden into her Gladstone bag before going to meet Helen Gentle at Stamford Hill. After tearful farewells, she led Manfred away with a parcel of his clothes that Mrs. Gentle had packed for the journey to France and took a bus to London Bridge railway station.
Manfred was dressed in a blue "frock" and had a sailor's hat on. Frocks were quite normal for small boys in those days.

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Manfred Masset - This picture was taken on the day he was handed over to his mother

Mother and son were next seen at London Bridge station's First Class waiting room at 1.45 p.m. on the Friday. Around 3.00 p.m., Mrs. Ellen Rees, the attendant in the waiting room, noted the little boy seemed distressed and suggested to Louisa that perhaps he was hungry. Louisa and Manfred then left rather hurriedly, Louisa saying she was going to buy Manfred a cake. She returned without him about 3 hours later to catch a train for Brighton for her rendezvous with Eudore on the Saturday.

At Dalston Junction station, an unsuspecting lady had a horrible shock when she went to the ladies toilets at about 6.20 p.m. and discovered the body of a child. It was a male child and was naked except for a black shawl. The face and head had been battered and there were two pieces of a broken clinker brick lying by the body. These were of the same type found in Louisa's garden. Manfred had been beaten unconscious and then suffocated perhaps using a hand over his mouth and nose according to Dr. J. P. Fennell, the doctor who examined the still warm body. Louisa was familiar with this station as she went there regularly on her journey to one of her piano pupils. Saturday's newspapers were full of the story of Manfred's discovery - the Victorian's were very fond of a "good murder" and every detail was reported. Louisa had sent Helen Gentle a letter which arrived on Monday the 30th saying that Manfred was missing her, and that he had been sick crossing the channel on the ferry but that all was well now. However, Helen Gentle was suspicious of the letter, having read about the discovery of the body of a child of Manfred's age, and informed the police of her suspicions.

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    Manfred's body in the mortuary

She later identified the body as Manfred and was also able to identify the parcel of clothes which she had made up for him and which were found in the left luggage office at Brighton station together with the frock and sailor's hat.
Back in Stoke Newington, the black shawl found on Manfred was identified by the shop assistant as having come from his establishment and being sold by him on October 24th to Louisa, who being half French had a distinctive speaking voice.
She was also identified by witnesses on London Bridge station as having been with the child earlier in the day.
Louisa had read about the discovery of Manfred's body and when she visited her sister later, was clearly in a distressed state. She is reported to have said, "I'm hunted for murder, but I didn't do it" and implicated Eudore in the crime.
She was soon arrested at her other sister's home. She was picked out in an identity parade by. Mrs. Rees, the waiting room attendant, and was duly charged with murder. She was committed for trial at the Old Bailey in December 1899.

Trial.

Louisa was tried at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Bruce between the 13th and 18th of December 1899. Her defence, led by Lord Coleridge, claimed that Louisa had entered into an agreement with two women, called Browning who on payment of £18.00 a year, were going to look after Manfred for the foreseeable future and that it must have been them who murdered him. She claimed to have given them a £12.00 deposit before handing Manfred over to them. This may sound far fetched now but would have had a lot more credibility at the time when "baby farming" murder cases were not uncommon.

However, as the two Mrs. Brownings could not be found and a receipt for the £12.00 could not be produced, Louisa's story was not believed by the jury. The evidence against her seemed conclusive and she was inevitably found guilty. She collapsed in the dock on hearing the verdict and had to be revived to hear her sentence, which was that she "be hanged by the neck until she was dead."

She was taken from the court into the adjoining Newgate Prison and placed in the condemned cell where she spent Christmas and New Year 1900 guarded around the clock by pairs of female warders.

She is said to have confessed to the murder in the condemned cell. A petition got up by other French women working in London was sent to Queen Victoria but was ignored.

Execution.

There was to be no reprieve and at 9.00 a.m. on the morning of the 9th of January, she faced her appointment with James Billington, the hangman from Bolton. She wore a long dress, as was customary at the time, and was attended by the chaplain, the Rev. Mr Ramsey, two male warders and the assistant executioner.

Billington placed a body belt round her waist, to which her wrists were pinioned, and then led her across the yard to the execution shed and onto the trap of the large gallows in Newgate. Once there, her legs were pinioned by a leather strap outside her skirt (to stop it blowing up as she dropped) and the noose placed around her neck.

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When all was ready, he put the white hood over her head and pulled the lever to "launch her into eternity" to use the popular expression of the time. A few minutes later the black flag was run up to tell the crowd outside that the execution had been carried out. After hanging for the regulation hour, her body was removed from the rope and prepared for inquest. The inquest noted that her features looked peaceful and only the rope mark on her neck bore witness to a violent death.  She was later buried in an unmarked grave within the prison.

Comment.

By the standards of the day, she was seen as an immoral woman, the case against her was strong and there was no doubt of her guilt or the justice of her sentence for a crime that was clearly pre-meditated and violent. To many people, the killing of a child by its mother is particularly shocking. But her case is a good example of how social values have changed in 100 years.
In Victorian England, having an illegitimate child was a serious stigma and it was no doubt considered equally scandalous behaviour to have a relationship with a much younger man.
There was no effective contraception in the 1890's - a silk handkerchief being about all that was available and so unwanted pregnancies were commonplace, as were "back street" abortions and the practice of giving unwanted children to people who purported that they were going to look after them, but in fact, murdered them as soon as they had been paid by the mother. The so called "baby farmers."
Bringing up a small child at that time also meant that it was virtually impossible for the mother to find work in order to support herself. There was no Social Security then nor any day nurseries in the modern sense. Helen Gentle's charges were by no means cheap when one considers what people earned at that time so, no doubt, Manfred was a financial burden on Louisa as well as an emotional one.

Ada Chard-Williams

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Ada Chard-Williams, aged 24, was convicted of battering and strangling to death 21 month old Selina Ellen Jones at Grove Road, Barnes in London on or about Saturday, the 23rd of September 1899. Florence Jones, a young unmarried mother, had read an advert in the local paper which offered to find adoptive homes for unwanted children. She answered the advert and duly met “Mrs. Hewetson” (Chard-Williams) at Charing Cross railway station on the 31st of August 1899. She agreed to pay her £5 to take on Selina but could only give her £3 on the day. Being an honest woman, she went back later with the balance and found that “Mrs. Hewetson” and Selina had vanished. Florence reported the matter to the police. The police soon discovered that “Mrs. Hewetson” was really Ada Chard Williams. However, they had no body with which to prove there had been a murder, at least not until little Selina's corpse was washed up on the bank of the Thames at Battersea on September the 27th. They remained unable to trace Chard-Williams as she moved frequently but were surprised she took pre-emptive action and wrote them a letter denying the killing (which she had read about) but in effect, admitting she was a baby farmer who bought and sold babies for profit. In the letter, she claimed that she had sold Selina on to a Mrs Smith in Croydon.
Chard-Williams had her own "signature" way of tying up bodies she wished to dispose of using a knot called a Fisherman’s bend, which was a crucial piece of evidence at her trial at the Old Bailey on the 16th and 17th of February 1900 before Mr. Justice Ridley. She was hanged by James Billington in the execution shed in the yard of Newgate prison on Tuesday, the 6th March 1900, the last woman to be executed there. She was suspected of killing other children although no further allegations were proceeded with.  Her husband, William, who had helped with the business was acquitted.

Mary Daly

On the morning of Tuesday June 17th 1902, a man by the name of John Daly, was found stabbed to death in a field near his home at Clonbrock. The previous day, Daly who was a coal carter, was making delliveries at Killesig, Carlow. He left the town at 9.30 p.m. and when he arrived home he led his horse around to the back of the house. His wife claimed that she had waited up for him until 11.00 p.m. and when he hadn't returned by then she retired to bed, where, she claimed, she feel into a deep sleepfrom which she awakened at 7.00 a.m. the following morning. Thinking that he husband had not come home she went outside to check and when she saw the cart out front and the horse in the field she assumed her husband had got up early and gone out to the fields to work. She sent her 11 year old son to fetch her husband and after searching for a short while the boy returned home to tell his mother that his father was lying out in one of the fields dead. The police were immediately summoned and they reported finding the body as the boy said, lying dead against the incline of some rising ground, the back of his head in a pool of blood. There were some marks of a struggle and from where the man had fallen there appeared to be a pool of blood no more than three or four feet away. When the body was examined more closely, they found a gash, which streched, over the left temple to under his left eye. Mr. Daly's head was a mass perforations, made by some very sharp tool and a pitchfork was found close to the body. Another fork with blood on it was later found at the Daly home. A local man named Joseph Taylor was soon arrested as the main suspect in the murder and Mary Daly the dead man's wife was also arrested. Both Taylor and Mary were indicted for the murder of John Daly.

At the trial of Taylor the Crown suggested that he had been having a adulterous affair with Mary Daly. On the day of the murder Taylor had been drinking heavily and John Daly the son of the deceased swaore that Taylor was in his father's house on the afternoon of the murder. He was sitting by the fire with Mary Daly and they were talking in a low tone to each other. The young boy claimed that he and his young sister were put to bed but he awoke when he heard shouting outside and saw his father being attacked by Taylor in the yard. The boy then claimed that he saw Taylor dragging his father over the garden and out into the field. Taylor's defence suggested that it was Mary Daly who had murdered her husband and that the children told this story to protect her. They suggested that Mary Daly hated her husband, and lay in wait for him on the night of the murder with a prong in her hand, then when she first attacked him , the poor man ran away and that he received the first blow of the prong probably on the spot where one of the pools of blood lay in the field. She broke the first prong and had to go back for another, which she also broke in her attack on him, and then finished him off with a stone. The jury deliberated for 50 minutes and returned a verdict of guilty. Joseph Taylor was sentenced to be hanged at Kilkenny on the 7th January 1903.

As soon as Taylor was found guilty the trial of Mary Daly began. The first witness was little John Daly who described again the scene of Taylor beating his father in the yard. The next witness was the boy's sister Lizzie, who confirmed her brother's story. Sergeant Conlan who attended the scene gave evidence regarding the finding of the prong behind the door in Daly's house.There had been blood on it and when he took it out Mrs Daly said: "He had that himself on Sunday morning" and that he had been beating her. He then asked her how the blood came to be on it, to which she claimed he had cut her hands with it. Upon further examination of her hands the Sergeant claimed that the cuts were only scratches, similar to those you would get from fingernails. The jury retired and deliberated for 55 minutes returning a guility verdict with a recommendation to mercy. His Lordship, in passing sentence, said that another jury had already returned a verdict of guilty against Joseph Taylor, and he felt bound to say he agreed with both verdicts. The sentence and judgement of the court was that Mary Daly should be hanged in the 9th January 1903 at Tullamore, just two days after the hanging of Taylor.

Annie Walters and Amelia Sach, the "Finchley Baby Farmers".

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Annie Walters and Amelia Sach became the first women to be hanged in the new women's prison at Holloway on the 3rd of February 1903 by William Billington and Henry Pierrepoint. Previously, female executions in London had been carried out at Newgate prison.

Twenty nine year old Amelia Sach ran a "nursing home" which offered a haven for unmarried mothers to have their babies in and which, for a fee, claimed it would care for the infant afterwards. Sach told her clients that she could arrange for foster parents for the babies for an additional fee. Once the mother had left the baby with Sach, she would pass it over to 54 year old Annie Walters who would murder it, either with a dose of Chlorodyne (a morphine based drug that causes asphyxia in babies or by suffocation if the Chlorodyne didn’t work.  The baby’s body would then be disposed of in the Thames or by burying it on a rubbish dump. Walters was neither literate or very bright and in 1902 decided take one of the babies home. She lived in rented accommodation and her landlord was a police officer. She told him that she was looking after the little girl while her parents were on holiday and his wife helped her change the baby's nappy. The policeman's wife noted that the little girl was actually a boy. A few days later, Mrs. Walters told the couple that the child had died in its sleep and she seemed genuinely upset about his death. 

A few months later she did the same thing again and this time her landlord became suspicious when this second child died. She was duly arrested and charged with the murder of the child, a 3 month old boy by the name of Galley. Further bodies were discovered from the information Walters gave the police and Amelia Sach was also now implicated in these murders. The police had enough evidence to charge them both with murder. Many items of baby's clothing were found by the police when they searched Sach's home and they may have murdered as many as 20 children. 

They were tried at the Old Bailey on the 15th and 16th of January 1903, before Mr. Justice Darling. It took the jury 40 minutes to find them both guilty. They were taken back to Holloway and were hanged there by William Billington assisted by John Billington and Henry Pierrepoint on Tuesday, the 3rd of February in the newley constructed execution shed at the end of “B” Wing. On the day of her execution, Amelia Sach was in a state of virtual collapse in the condemned cell. Pierrepoint recorded in his diary the following, "These two women were baby farmers of the worst kind and they were both repulsive in type. One was two pounds less than the other (in weight) and there was a difference of two inches in the drop which we allowed. One (Sachs) had a long thin neck and the other (Walters) a short neck, points which I was bound to observe in the arrangement of the rope. Amelia Sach had to be almost carried to the scaffold while Annie Walters stayed quite calm and is said to have called out “Goodbye Sach” as she was hooded on the trapdoors. This was to be the last double female hanging in Britain.

Emily Swann
 
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It is amazing what a glass of brandy will do! A few minutes before 8 o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, December 29th, 1903, Emily Swann was in a state of virtual collapse, moaning pitifully on the floor of her cell and yet, after a drink of brandy, she was able to regain her composure and walk to the execution room where she said, "Good morning John" to her hooded and pinioned boyfriend, John Gallagher, as she was brought up beside him on the gallows in Leeds' Armley prison. He wasn’t aware that she was there and was completely taken aback by this but managed to reply, "Good morning love." As the noose was placed round her neck, she said: "Good-bye. God bless you."

 

The crime.

Emily was a 42 year old mother of 11 children. She was described as a stumpy little, round-faced woman, 4 ft.10 in. tall and 122 lb. in weight and from a "respectable" background. She was married to William Swann who was a glass-blower and they had a lodger, a 30 year old miner called John Gallagher, who was living with them at Wombwell in Yorkshire.

It is probable that Emily and John were having an affair and it was common knowledge to their neighbours that William beat Emily up at times, although whether this was because he felt she was too friendly to John or for other reasons is not known. Domestic violence was not uncommon at this time anyway. Attitudes to extramarital relationships and wife beating were very different 100 years ago, and it is probable that William felt well within his rights to lay into Emily over her liaison with John.
 
There had been lots of quarrels and John had decided to leave the Swanns' household, although he was still a regular visitor. His visits always seemed to provoke another fight so he had resolved to leave Wombwell for good in June 1903 and move to Bradford.
 
Things came to a head on the afternoon of the 6th of June when Emily went into her neighbour's house with a shawl over her head. She removed the shawl and showed the neighbour her two black eyes and facial bruises, saying: "See what our Bill's done!" On seeing Emily's injuries, John, who was also at the neighbour's house, became instantly enraged and said, "I'll go and give him something for himself for that." Another neighbour saw him dashing into the Swanns' house, followed closely by Emily. John was shouting, "I'll coffin him before morning." The neighbours heard the sounds of a struggle from inside the house. The noises of fighting went on for some 10 minutes, at the end of which John came out and went back to the neighbour's house."I've busted four of his ribs and I'll bust four more," he announced. A few minutes later he told the neighbour, "I'll finish him out before I go to Bradford." As he went back into the Swanns' house, he said, "I'll murder the pig before morning. If he can't kick a man he shan't kick a woman." Another fight ensued and the neighbour heard Emily say, "Give it to him, Johnny."

Ten minutes later Emily and John emerged from William's house holding hands and being described by neighbours as showing "every sign of affection." Behind them, in the shambles of the house, William lay dead. John and Emily calmly went over to their friends house and told them the situation.

The police had been sent for and when they arrived, they immediately arrested Emily. John, however, had escaped and went on the run for two months before finally being tracked down to the house of a relative in Middlesborough, having spent some time living rough.

Trial.
 
John and Emily came to trial in October 1903 at Leeds Assizes. Their barrister admitted that the relationship between them was "of a misdirected order," but contended that John had merely gone to the house to remonstrate with William for his brutal treatment of Emily. Their defence insisted that neither John nor Emily wanted William dead. 
However, the judge advised the jury that John's remark, "I'll finish him out before I go to Bradford" showed that there was intent. This remark had been allegedly made between the two fights, after which he had gone back into the house and carried out his threat.
"As for the woman" continued the judge, "it is my duty to tell you that one does not commit murder only with one's hands. If one person instigates another to commit murder, and that other person does it, the instigator is also guilty of murder."
Not surprisingly, they were both found guilty of William's murder on what was very clear evidence, the jury taking only an hour in their deliberations.
Emily remained calm as the foreman of the jury gave the guilty verdict and when asked if she wanted to say anything before sentence of death was passed, told the judge, "I am innocent." "I am not afraid of immediate death, because I am innocent and will go to God." Both she and John were then formally sentenced to death.
 
The judge was aware of some more evidence which it had been decided would not be put before the jury because it would prejudice Emily's case. After the sentencing and before he discharged the jury, the judge told them that when Gallagher was taken into custody, he had told the police that Emily hit William and beat him with a poker, and that he (Gallagher) did not touch the dead man, although he was present. "That statement was not direct evidence against the woman but from the proved position of the poker I am convinced that the statement was partly true and that Mrs. Swann did really take part in the actual killing." Understandably, this caused quite a stir. It was held up as an example of the fairness of the judicial system which declined to take unfair advantage of an accused person. It was also a matter for satisfaction to the prosecution that even without that vital evidence, the jury had still been convinced of the woman's guilt.
After she was sentenced to death, Emily seemed quite unperturbed and smiled and blew a kiss to someone in the gallery as she was led down from the dock.
They were taken from court to Armley prison, Leeds and lodged in separate condemned cells.
Both were informed that would be no reprieves and that their executions would take place on the 29th of December 1903.
Apparently, John had not expected to be reprieved but Emily had hoped that she would be and had had major mood swings in the condemned cell where she was guarded by pairs of wardresses 24 hours a day.
Emily was greatly distressed and in a state of near collapse when the governor informed her that there would be no reprieve. Emily told her wardresses repeatedly that she was very worried about the disgrace she was bringing on her family. Emily's family made a last, forlorn appeal to the King for clemency but this was, as usual, ignored.
The only time Emily and John saw each other between sentence and execution was at the prison chapel service on Christmas morning where they were kept separate and not allowed to speak. It is reported that they both ate a substantial Christmas dinner.
 
Execution.
 
At this time, double (and even treble hangings) were still allowed and it was decided to execute them side by side. John Billington was the principal executioner assisted by John Ellis. 
They went first to John Gallagher who was quite calm and pinioned his wrists behind him. He was then led forward to the gallows by warders, while Billington and Ellis pinioned the now much recovered Emily, whom they escorted into the execution room flanked by two male warders. 
John was already on the trap, surrounded and supported by warders, with the white hood over his head when Emily was led in. She would have been able to see the two nooses dangling from the beam. As she came onto the trap, Billington drew the white hood over her head and then she made her famous remark. A moment later the lever was pulled and they plummeted down through the trap together. The autopsy found that death had been "instantaneous" in both cases.
 
Comment.
 
This was very much an "open and shut" case where the evidence against both defendants was strong and one which involved the doctrine of Common Purpose that was part of English law in 1903 (and still is now). The law states that if two (or more) people commit a crime, they can be held equally responsible where there was common purpose, i.e. they both intended or could have reasonably foreseen the outcome. This seems to have been true in this case - if Emily's words were accurately reported by her neighbours, it is clear that at that moment, at least, she wanted John to kill William and, therefore, would be equally responsible for the outcome. Her precise role in the actual killing is unclear, although it is probable that she did in fact take part as John had claimed.
 
It is unlikely that either John or Emily intended to kill William, because he was in the way of their affair, but rather because John lost his temper when he saw Emily's injuries and between them things went too far in the "heat of the moment." Today Emily might be seen more as the victim than she was then, but they would almost certainly still both be found guilty of murder because she played an active role in the killing and did nothing to restrain John.
 
The factor that makes this case unusual is the behaviour of Emily on the gallows. Normally not a word was spoken by the prisoner in this situation. They were not invited to speak and many were probably paralysed with fear or had retreated into a world of their own by the time they were pinioned and hooded.
 
Double hangings were ultimately abolished because they took longer to carry out, and this was felt to prolong the suffering of the first prisoner especially. After about 1920 where two or more people were to be executed for the same crime, they could be hanged in separate prisons at the same moment in time, as happened with Edith Thompson and her boyfriend, Frederick Bywaters.  In this case, it was probably far less cruel, especially to Emily, to allow her to die beside John rather than make her suffer on her own. Edith Thompson may well have held up better if she had been allowed to be hanged with Bywaters.
 
This was the first of a trio of female hangings that John Ellis was involved in and all three had unusual features. Susan Newell refused the white hood and Edith Thompson's was very unpleasant and also involved the killing of the husband by the boyfriend. John Ellis had a very strong dislike of hanging women.
 
Rhoda Willis
 
Leslie James was the last woman to be hanged for baby-farming and also the last woman to be hanged in Wales.  Only on the day before her execution did she reveal to her solicitor, Mr. Harold Lloyd, that her real name was Rhoda Willis, having been charged, tried and convicted in the assumed name of Leslie James.  Apparently her motive for this deceit was to avoid bringing shame on her family, according to the Western Mail newspaper.
 
She was born Rhoda Leselles and was originally from Sunderland and had been given a good education at a girls boarding school in London.  Around the age of 19 she met and later married Thomas Willis, a marine engineer from Sunderland.  The couple moved to the Grangetown area of Cardiff where Rhoda gave birth to a daughter.  Thomas later died of natural causes leaving Rhoda on her own to bring up their child.  She took up with a Mr. E S Macpherson, strangely another marine engineer and the couple lived together for some time in Paget Street, Cardiff, with Rhoda bearing him two daughters before they decided to separate.  Rhoda went to live with her brother in Birmingham and the two children stayed with their father.  She later returned to Cardiff and had begun to drink heavily and was generally going “down hill”.
In 1907 she was knocked down by a bicycle and sustained a head injury which necessitated a lengthy stay in the workhouse infirmary.  After her release she was convicted of her first criminal offence, the theft of a medal, for which she received a short prison sentence. 
 
The murder.
 
Rhoda placed an advert for a baby to adopt in The Evening Press and gave a Box No to reply to. One was received from a Mrs. Lydia English, whose sister Maude Treasure was pregnant. It was agreed that Leslie James, as Mrs. English knew her, would take the baby when it was born, which it duly was on the 3rd of June 3 1907.  Rhoda collected the infant the following day (4th of June) and the pre-agreed fee of £8 at Hengoed railway station and took her by train back to her lodgings at Portmanmoor Road, Splott, in Cardiff.  It was on this train journey that she later confessed to smothering the baby.  Rhoda wrote out a receipt for the money and Lydia and Maude had kept it.  She had also written another letter to Lydia English after the baby’s death in which she said "I am leaving for the North. Have just given baby a nice bath. She is lovely."
Rhoda also received other replies to her advertisement, including one from an Emily Stroud from Abertillery who had had a baby on the 20th of March 1907.  Rhoda took this child and kept it until early May when she dumped it outside the Salvation Army House in Cardiff, with a note claiming she was an unmarried mother who could not cope. Sadly, the baby was not discovered quickly enough and subsequently died eight days later as a result of suffering exposure. Another child was adopted on the 8th of May, but this one was able to return to its parents unharmed.
 
Her landlady, Mrs. Wilson, told the police that Rhoda had gone out on the 5th of June and had returned home drunk. She helped to get Rhoda to bed and noticed a bundle by the bed. When she opened it, she was horrified to find the body of a newborn baby girl.  She immediately sent for the police who arrested Rhoda at the scene.  She was charged with murder and remanded in custody to the next Glamorgan assizes.
 
She was tried at Swansea before Mr. Commissioner Shee on Tuesday and Wednesday, the 23rd and 24th of June 1907 on the one charge of murder of Maude Treasure’s unnamed baby.  She pleaded not guilty and claimed that the child had been ill and therefore died of natural causes.  Examination of the baby showed that it had been dead for between 12 and 48 hours when it had been discovered, but had been healthy at birth.  The prosecution showed that she had died from asphyxia, having been smothered, although the defence claimed that the suffocation could have been accidental.  This might well have been accepted and led to an acquittal had it not been for the letter that Rhoda had sent after the baby’s death.  Handwriting experts claimed that the writing on the note found with the dumped baby outside the Salvation Army House was Rhoda’s as it matched the writing in a letter sent by her to Lydia English and the receipt for the £8.  The jury retired at 2.45pm on the second day of the trial and took just 12 minutes to bring in a guilty verdict.  Commissioner Shee agreed with their verdict and told Rhoda "Don't let anyone suppose that because you are convicted of murder that nobody pities you, nobody prays for you. "I implore you to employ the short time that is left to you to prepare for death and for that mercy which you will undoubtedly find in Heaven, but which you cannot expect here.
"The sentence of the court upon you is that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall have been confined before your execution, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!"  She was then removed to the condemned cell at Cardiff prison, presumably because Swansea prison did not have female facilities.
 
Cardiff City Council decided to draw up a petition for a reprieve to be sent to the Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone. Alderman John Jenkins MP promised to obtain a meeting with Gladstone to explain the Council’s position.  As usual, especially in the case of a woman, public petitions were got up for a reprieve.  Rhoda’s solicitor received 120 letters on the Monday prior to the hanging in support of a reprieve, including two from members of the coroner’s jury who thought that she was only guilty of manslaughter.  Herbert Gladstone was unmoved by this agitation and confirmed that the law would take its course on Wednesday as planned.
 
Rhoda asked the governor of Cardiff prison, Mr. H B Le Mesurier, if she could have a meeting with her former partner, Mr. Macpherson, which he allowed and sent Mr. Macpherson an urgent telegram telling him to come at once.  They had their emotional meeting in the condemned cell and she gave him a lengthy letter.  This letter was reported to be full of remorse and regrets but stated that she was resigned to her fate and hoped God would forgive her.  She also beseeched him to keep the details of her fate from their two daughters.
The gallows at Cardiff were housed in an execution shed in a small yard quite close to the main gate and totally hidden from view by high walls.  On the Tuesday prior to the execution the prison staff tested the drop and Henry Pierrepoint and his brother and assistant, Thomas tested it again upon their arrival at the prison in the early afternoon. Rhoda stood 5’ 2” tall and weighed 145 pounds, her drop being calculated at 5’ 9”.
 
Around the same time on the Tuesday afternoon as the Pierrepoint brothers arrived at the prison so did her solicitor Mr. Lloyd and a warder mistook him for one the brothers.  Mr. Lloyd had drawn up Rhoda’s will and had bought it for her to sign and be witnessed by the matrons looking after her.  She left what little she had to Mr. Macpherson to help him care for their daughters.
 
Late on the Tuesday evening Rhoda asked the Governor for another meeting with Mr. Lloyd and he was contacted and agreed to be at the prison at 6a.m. the next morning.  Rhoda made a full confession to him in the condemned cell in an interview lasting nearly half an hour.  She reportedly told him that she could not go to her death without a clear conscience and that she did indeed wilfully murder the baby on the train back from Hengoed, between Llanishen and Cardiff.  She told Mr. Lloyd that a sudden temptation (to kill the child) came over her and that she couldn’t resist it.  She asked him to let the trial judge and jurors know of her confession so that they would not have the execution of an innocent woman on their consciences. The chaplain of Cardiff prison, the Rev. Arthur Pugh, then gave Rhoda the sacrament.
 
To avoid any contact with the group of seven men and one woman who were being released from the prison on the Wednesday morning at the end of their sentences, the governor bought forward their release to 7a.m.
 
The execution had been set for 8a.m. on Wednesday, the 14th of August, 1907, which would have been her 44th birthday. She was still an attractive woman, her blaze of golden hair glinting in the morning sunshine as she was led across the yard to execution shed.  This was remarked upon by Henry Pierrepoint in his diary.  Present were the usual officials, including the Under Sheriff, Mr. T T Williams, the governor, Mr. H B Le Mesurier, the chaplain Rev. Arthur Pugh and the prison surgeon Mr. J D Williams.  As was usual with a female execution the press were not admitted.
A large crowd had gathered outside the prison to witness the official notices of the execution be put up on the prison gates at around 8.30a.m., the event being photographed by the press and a few of the onlookers.
She was the last baby farmer to be hanged and the seventh person to be executed at Cardiff prison which had been opened in 1854. 
 
Comment.
 
It is interesting and disturbing to note that Rhoda suffered a head injury and it is possible that this may have precipitated her criminal behaviour.  There is no record of any offence prior to this injury being sustained.  It was much harder to check for brain damage in 1907 and as Rhoda appeared sane there was no obvious reason to try. 
Although the Criminal Appeal Act had been passed earlier in the year it could not help Rhoda as it had bee decided by Parliament that it would only apply to persons convicted after the 18th of April, 1908. 

Edith Thompson
 
ethompson-2.jpg
 
Edith Thompson was a quite attractive 28 year old who was married to shipping clerk 32 year old Percy Thompson. They had no children and enjoyed a reasonable lifestyle, as Edith had a good job as the manageress of a milliners in London.
 
However, Edith was also having an affair with 20 year old Frederick Bywaters who was a ship's steward. Their relationship had started in June 1921 when he accompanied the Thompsons on holiday to the Isle of Wight. He moved in as lodger waiting for his next job on board ship but had been chucked out by Percy for getting too friendly with Edith. He witnessed a violent row between Edith and Percy and later comforted her. His ship was to sail on the 9th of September 1921, and he saw Edith secretly from time to time until ultimately booking into a hotel with her under false names.
 
He was a decisive (impulsive) young man who, at least according to him, decided on his own to stab Percy Thompson whom he felt was making Edith's life miserable.
 
et2.jpg
 

Freddie Bywaters, Edith Thompson and victim Percy Thompson

On October 4th, 1922, Bywaters lay in wait until just after midnight for Edith and Percy who were returning home to Ilford (in Essex) after a night out at a theatre in London and then stabbed Percy several times. Edith was said to have shouted "Oh don't!" "Oh don't! "  Bywaters escaped and Percy died at the scene. Edith was hysterical but was questioned by police when she calmed down alleging that a strange man had stabbed Percy.

The Thompson's lodger, Fanny Lester, advised the police about Bywaters having also lodged with them, and they also learned that he worked for P & O, the shipping line.

The police discovered the letters that Edith had written to him and soon arrested him and charged him with the murder.

Edith was also arrested soon afterwards and charged with murder or alternatively with being an accessory to murder. She did not know that Bywaters had been arrested but saw him in the police station later and said "Oh God why did he do it", continuing "I didn't want him to do it".

Bywaters insisted that he had acted alone in the crime and gave his account as follows :

"I waited for Mrs. Thompson and her husband. I pushed her to one side, also pushing him into the street. We struggled. I took my knife from my pocket and we fought and he got the worst of it"

"The reason I fought with Thompson was because he never acted like a man to his wife. He always seemed several degrees lower than a snake. I loved her and I could not go on seeing her leading that life. I did not intend to kill him. I only meant to injure him. I gave him the opportunity of standing up to me like a man but he wouldn't". Bywaters stuck to this story during the trial which opened at the Old Bailey on December 6th, 1922 before Mr. Justice Shearman.

Edith had written no less than 62 intimate letters to Bywaters and stupidly they had kept them. In these, she referred to Bywaters as "Darlingest and Darlint". Some of them described how she had tried to murder Percy on several occasions. In one referring, apparently an attempt to poison him, she wrote, "You said it was enough for an elephant." "Perhaps it was. But you don't allow for the taste making it possible for only a small quantity to be taken." She had also tried broken glass, and told Bywaters that she had made three attempts but that Percy had discovered some in his food so she had had to stop.

Edith had sent Bywaters press cuttings describing murders by poisoning and had told Bywaters that she had aborted herself after becoming pregnant by him.

At the trial, Bywaters refused to incriminate Edith and when cross examined told the prosecution that he did not believe that Edith had actually attempted to poison Percy but had rather a vivid imagination and a passion for sensational novels that extended to her imagining herself as one of the characters. 

Edith had been advised against going into the witness box by her lawyer but decided to do so and promptly incriminated herself by being asked what she had meant when she had written to Bywaters asking him to send her "something to give her husband."  She said she had "no idea."  Very unconvincing!

The judge in his summing up described Edith's letters as "full of the outpourings of a silly but at the same time, a wicked affection."  The summing up was fair in law but the judge made much of the adultery. 

Mr. Justice Shearman was obviously a very Victorian gentleman with high moral principles.

He also instructed the jury, however, "You will not convict her unless you are satisfied that she and he agreed that this man should be murdered when he could be, and she knew that he was going to do it, and directed him to do it, and by arrangement between them he was doing it."

The jury were not convinced by the defence case and took just over two hours to find them both guilty of murder on the 11th December. Even after the verdict was read out, Bywaters continued to defend Edith loudly. However, the judge had to pass the death sentence on both of them as required by law.

Edith was taken back to Holloway and Bywaters to Pentonville, prisons half a mile apart (in London) and placed in the condemned cells.

Both lodged appeals but these were dismissed. 

She was an adulteress, an abortionist and possibly a woman who incited a murder or worse still had tried to poison her husband. At least this is how she was judged against the morals of the time. That is until she was sentenced to death. The public and the media that had been so against her now did a complete U-turn and campaigned for a reprieve. There was a large petition, with nearly a million signatures on it, to spare her. However this, even together with Bywaters repeated confession that he and he alone killed Thompson, failed to persuade the Home Secretary to reprieve her.

So at 9.00 a.m. on January 9th, 1923, both were executed in their respective prisons. Bywaters met his end bravely at the hands of William Willis, still protesting Edith's innocence whilst she was in a state of total collapse. She had major mood swings even up to the morning of execution as she expected to be reprieved all along.

A few minutes before they entered the condemned cell, the execution party heard a ghastly moan come from Edith's cell. When hangman John Ellis entered she was semi-conscious as he strapped her wrists. According to his biography, she looked dead already.
She was carried from the condemned cell to the gallows in the execution shed by two warders and the two assistants (Robert Baxter and Seth Mills) and held on the trap whilst Ellis completed the preparations.
Depending on whose version of events you read/believe, there was a considerable amount of blood dripping from her after the hanging. Some, including Bernard Spillsbury the famous pathologist who carried out the autopsy on her, claim it was caused by her being pregnant and miscarrying whilst others claim it was due to inversion of the uterus, and the authorities claim that nothing untoward happened at all. (They would, wouldn’t they!). Edith had been in custody for over three months before the execution so would have probably known she was pregnant. Under English law, the execution would have been staid until after she had given birth. In practice, she would have almost certainly been reprieved. She had everything to gain from claiming to be pregnant so it is surprising that she didn't if she had indeed missed two or three periods. However, she had aborted herself earlier and this may have damaged her uterus which combined with the force of the drop caused it to invert. The bleeding may equally have been the start of a heavy period. Research done in Germany before and during World War II on a large number of condemned women showed that menstruation was often interrupted by the stress of being tried and sentenced to death but could be brought on by the shock of being informed of the actual date of the execution, which in Edith's case was likely to have been only one or two days before she was hanged. Whatever the truth, this hanging seemed to have a profound effect on all those present. 
Several of the prison officers took early retirement. John Ellis retired in 1923 and committed suicide in 1931.
Her body was buried "within the precincts of the prison in which she was last confined" in accordance with her sentence but was reburied at the massive Brookwood Cemetery in Brookwood, Surrey. in 1970, when Holloway Prison was being rebuilt.
 
Comment.
 
In law if two people want a third person dead and conspire together to murder that person, it does not matter which one of them struck the fatal blow, both are equally guilty.
The law has always liked written evidence because it is much safer and stronger than hearsay evidence or the confused statements of witnesses. In this case they had a veritable pile of it, mostly incriminating. Letters that talked about poisoning Percy and letters asking Bywaters to "do something" etc.
The jury accepted the prosecution case that all this added up to common purpose to murder Percy, after a short 2-1/4 hour discussion.
It should be said that divorce was much harder in those days. If Percy refused to divorce her, which he had, her only alternatives were to run away with Bywaters or kill Percy.
As in all capital cases, the Home Secretary had the power of reprieve and many people were shocked that he did not exercise it in this case
 
Susan Newell
 
susan-newell.jpg
 
Background.
 
Susan Newell was born in 1893 and had lived a hard life in constant poverty. In June 1923, she was living in a rented flat in Newlands Street, Coatbridge, a suburb of Glasgow, with her husband John and eight year old daughter, Janet McLeod, from her previous marriage. John was apparently a drunkard and a womaniser. After just three weeks their landlady, Mrs. Young, had become fed up with their rows and had given them notice to quit.
 
Susan was noted for having a bad temper and also had some history of violence. On June 19th, 1923, she had assaulted her husband, John, beating him round the head which he reported to the police. The following day they had another violent argument and he left home going to his sister's house that night.
 
The crime.
 
On the evening of Wednesday, June the 20th, 1923 around 6 45 p.m., 13 year old newspaper boy, John Johnson, knocked on Susan's door to see if she wanted the evening newspaper. She told him to come in and took the paper from him. However, John insisted he had to have the money for it. At this, Susan lost control of herself and strangled the poor little boy. Her daughter was to see the boy's body when she came in from playing lying on the settee. Janet had to help her mother wrap it in an old rug. Susan had the age old problem of what to do with John's body. She slept on this problem and by the morning had decided how she would dispose of it.
 
Susan and Janet carried John's body downstairs and put it in an old pram, which she had found, still covered by the rug. With Janet perched on top of the bundle, they set off together on foot towards Glasgow. Several people noticed them as they walked along the roads towards Glasgow. A passing lorry driver offered them a lift which Susan accepted and dropped them off in Glasgow's Duke Street. As the pram was being got down from the truck, the bundle containing John's small body came undone and a foot was seen sticking out of one end and the top of his head at the other end. Apparently the lorry driver failed to notice this but a lady, who was looking out the window of her house nearby, did before Susan could cover up the body again. She decided to follow Susan and Janet and enlisted the help of her sister. They met a man and asked him to fetch the police while they continued to follow Susan. The man was able to keep up with her and saw Susan leave the bundle containing John's body at the entrance to a tenement. Susan attempted to escape over a wall and was immediately arrested by a policeman waiting for her on the other side.
 
Susan had already worked out her story if she was caught and had primed Janet as well. She told the police that her husband had killed the boy and that she had tried to stop him. He had then forced her and Janet to dispose of the body for him. John was now also arrested and they were both charged with the murder.
 
The trial.
 
Husband and wife came to trial in Glasgow on the 18th of September 1923 before Lord Alness. The case against John collapsed as he could prove that he was not in the house when the murder took place. He was able to produce several witnesses to prove his whereabouts. The judge freed him immediately saying that he should never have been brought to trial. He left the dock without even a glance at Susan.
The main and most compelling evidence against Susan was given by her daughter Janet. She told the court how she had come back to the flat from playing outside to see the body of John lying on the sofa and how she had helped her mother wrap it up. She also related to the court how she had helped her mother try to dispose of the body and what her mother had told her what to say if she was questioned by the police. Susan had given Janet a full story that she was to tell of how her stepfather had killed John.
 
In her defence, it was argued that Susan was insane, although this was rebutted by the prosecution's expert witness, Professor John Glaister who had examined her while she was on remand. Her counsel pointed out that the killing was not premeditated and had no obvious motive.
The jury retired and reached their verdict in 37 minutes. Somewhat surprisingly in view of the weight of evidence, Susan was only convicted by a majority verdict. At least one of the jurors believed her defence of insanity. The jury unanimously recommended mercy for her. 
Upon receiving the guilty verdict, Lord Alness sentenced her to death and she was taken back to Duke Street (yes, the same Duke Street) where Glasgow's prison stood at the time. Here she was examined by psychiatrists and found to be legally sane.
 
Execution.
 
No woman had been hanged in Scotland since 1889 (Jessie King) and there were considerable efforts made to secure a reprieve for Susan. However, the application of the law in Scotland had to be seen to be in line with that in England where Edith Thompson had been hanged for what most of us would regard as a much less serious crime only 10 months earlier.
 
The Secretary of State for Scotland, therefore, decided that she could not to be reprieved and her execution was set for October the 10th, 1923. Susan showed emotion for the first time when told by the Lord Provost of Glasgow that there was to be no reprieve. She cried out for her daughter and then fainted.
 
She was to be hanged by John Ellis, assisted by William Willis. (Ellis heartily disliked executing female prisoners and there was some sort of incident at each of the three he did. The other two were Emily Swann and Edith Thompson)  He was noted for the speed at which he conducted executions and it is perhaps for wanting to get the procedure over with quickly and not wanting to hurt Susan he did not pinion her wrists properly. Ellis decided to use the leather body belt that he had had made for Edith Thompson which had an additional strap to go round the thighs. This was necessary because as skirts got shorter over the years, there was concern that they would billow up as the prisoner dropped. 
On the gallows, Susan allowed Baxter to strap her legs and thighs without protest but was able to get her hands free from the loose wrist straps on the body belt and defiantly pulled off the white hood saying to Ellis, "Don't put that thing over me."  Rather than risk another trying scene, Ellis decided to proceed without it, as the noose was already in place and so he simply pulled the lever and Susan went through the trap with her face in full view of the small number of officials who were present. She became the last woman to hang in Scotland and was said to be the calmest person in the execution chamber accepting her fate with both courage and dignity, although she never admitted her crime.
 
Comment.
 
There seem to be few mitigating factors in Susan's case - both she and John Johnson were the victims of her violent temper. The evidence against her was clear and overwhelming.
There is the question of motive. John's father had told the court that his son wouldn't have had more than 9 pence on him at the time of the killing. So it seems doubtful that Susan killed him for money and rather more likely that she simply could not control her temper.
Perhaps John was somewhat cheeky and said something to Susan when he asked her for the money that made her snap. She was already in a "wound up" state after the rows with her husband and it is quite possible that, unwittingly, young John just pushed her over the edge.
 
Undoubtedly, there are a significant number of murders committed due to temporary loss of control by people who are sane on normal definition of that term. The M'Naughten rules, which came in to being in 1843, were the basis of the legal definition of sanity. They required that, for a person to be found insane, it had to be shown that they were, at the time of the crime, suffering from such defect of mind that either they did not know what they were doing or that what they were doing was wrong. Clearly Susan, at least knew, what she had done was wrong.
 
One wonders whether it was Susan's natural defiance that made her refuse to admit her crime, at least in public. Some people who have committed a dreadful crime go into denial and are unable to admit it even to themselves. Some know in their own hearts what they have done but see denial as the best way forward. Perhaps because they think it might win a reprieve or because they want their loved ones at least to believe they were innocent.
 
Louie Calvert
 
At a minute to nine on the summer morning of Thursday, June 24th, 1926, a small group of men silently formed up outside the condemned cell at the end of 'B' wing in the central area of Manchester's Strangeways prison. Upon a signal from the governor, Thomas Pierrepoint, Britain's "No. 1" hangman at that time, entered the cell at precisely 9.00 a.m. accompanied by two male warders. The two women warders, who had been looking after the prisoner, told her to stand up and Pierrepoint took her arms and quickly strapped her wrists behind her with a leather strap before leading the way out of the cell through a second door which had been uncovered by sliding away the wardrobe. The prisoner was led forward into the execution chamber by the two male warders and stopped by Pierrepoint on a chalked "T" precisely over the divide of the trapdoors. The two warders, standing on boards set across the trap, supported her, one on either side while William Willis, Pierrepoint's assistant, put leather straps round her ankles and thighs. Pierrepoint withdrew what would have appeared to her to be a white pocket handkerchief from his top pocket and deftly placed it over her head following quickly with the leather covered noose, positioning the eyelet just under the angle of her lower left jaw and sliding down the claw cut rubber washer to hold it in place. His eyes darted from side to side to check that all was ready before he lent forward, withdrew the safety pin and pushed the metal lever away from him. The hooded form disappeared through the trap and dangled in the cell below. 
The medical officer went down to listen to the weakening heartbeat coming from the small broken body, now hanging motionless, its head drooping to one side. 
It had taken no more than 20 seconds to carry out the sentence of the court upon Mrs. Louie Calvert. Her body was left on the rope for the customary hour before being taken down and prepared for autopsy. This found that her death had been "instantaneous" and confirmed that she was not pregnant. These facts were made public at the subsequent inquest, held later in the day before the Leeds Coroner, Mr. Stuart Rodgers. Her body was then buried in an unmarked grave within the prison grounds in accordance with her sentence. She was the first woman to be hanged at Strangeways since Mary Ann Britland in 1886. Louie was calm at the end and was reported to have accepted her fate with considerable courage. It is unclear why her execution took place at 9.00 a.m. rather than at the customary time of 8.00 a.m. It drew a crowd outside the prison estimated at some 500 people, many of them women, who waited around until the death notice was displayed on the prison gates.
 
It has been said that Louie was somewhat disappointed to find the press were not going to be allowed to witness her hanging. (This practice had been discontinued some years earlier.) Apparently, she wanted to be in the limelight for once in her life. In fact, she didn't arouse much media interest at all which was probably another disappointment for her, this being partly due to the General Strike that was going on at the time of her trial. There are no photos of Louie Calvert, typically because she and her relatives were too poor to be able to afford a camera or to go to a photographer, and because newspaper photographers were either on strike or did not get an opportunity to get a picture of her during the trial.
 
Louie Calvert was unusual amongst the women executed in the 20th century in that she was a known criminal who had convictions for petty theft and prostitution, although up to the murder of Mrs. Waterhouse, nobody had suspected her of being a killer. She was a small, unattractive 33 year old who had used several aliases, as a prostitute she worked under the name of Louie Gomersal and was known as Louise Jackson to the Salvation Army, whose meetings she attended. She was known to have an unpleasant and violent temper. She had a six year old son, Kenneth, whom she was particularly fond of and asked to have visit her in the condemned cell. He was taken into care after the execution.
 
Under the name of Louise Jackson, Louie took a live in job as housekeeper to one Arthur Calvert who was a night watchman living at 7 Railway Place in the Pottery Fields area of Leeds. Louie's son also went to live with them. She and Arthur had an affair and after a while, Louie claimed that she was pregnant by him and persuaded Arthur to marry her. She was able to deceive Arthur for some time and eventually told him she was leaving him to go to her sister's home in Dewsbury to give birth. She sent Arthur a telegram to let him know she had arrived safely. There was of course no baby and the pregnancy had been feigned purely to force Arthur into marriage.
 
Louie had in fact returned to Leeds immediately and on the 8th of March 1926, took up lodgings with a 40 year old rather eccentric widow, called Mrs. Lily Waterhouse, in Amberley Road, Leeds. The arrangement between the two women was that Louie would act as maid and housekeeper in return for her board and lodging. While with Lily, Louie had on March 16th seen an advert for a child to be adopted. She agreed to adopt the baby girl from an unmarried teenage mum and she was due to collect the baby on the 31st of March. Presumably, Louie intended to take the baby home to Arthur and pass it off as her own. (There was great stigma attached to girls who had a baby out of wedlock in the 1920's. Whether Louie and the girl went through a formal adoption process is doubtful as she would probably have been only too pleased to have been rid of the baby.)
 
The domestic situation was not at all satisfactory to Mrs. Waterhouse because Louie refused to work as agreed and they argued constantly over this and other matters. Also Lily had noticed that her personal items and silverware were going missing and found pawn shop tickets from which she concluded that it was Louie who was stealing them. Lily reported her suspicions to the police on the 30th of March and was told to return the next day to lodge a formal complaint against Louie. 
Sadly for Lily, when she got home, she made the mistake of telling Louie what she had done. The police had arranged for Lily to appear before magistrates on the 1st of April to apply for a "process" (presumably an injunction).
 
On the 31st of March 1926, Lily was seen by her neighbours entering her house around 6.15 p.m. About 7.30 p.m., her neighbours in the row of terraced houses, heard loud banging sounds coming from Lily's house and a few minutes later saw Louie leaving with the baby. One of the neighbours, Mrs. Clayton, asked Louie what the noise was all about. Louie told her, "I put up the baby's bed, and it fell when I was folding it." Mrs. Clayton told Louie that she thought she heard Mrs. Waterhouse make some strange sounds. "Yes," replied Louie, I have left her in bed crying because I am leaving her."
 
As Lily didn’t show up in court, two detectives were sent round to Lily's home the following day to find out why she had not turned up. After hearing about the commotion earlier from her neighbours, they opened the window shutters and saw that the main bed had not been slept in. They got a key and went into the house finding Lily lying dead in a small bedroom at the top of the stairs. She had been hit over the head and strangled to death. There were no signs of a struggle as might have occurred in a break in, but one of the officers noticed that Lily was barefoot. There was a mark round her neck consistent with a ligature and marks on her wrists and legs. 
Louie was the prime, and in fact only obvious suspect, and she was soon tracked down to her marital home in Railway Place. When the police arrived, she opened the door to them. The officers found she was wearing Lily's boots even though they were several sizes too large and some of the missing property was also discovered. She was arrested and taken to the police station and there charged with Lily's murder. As detectives questioned her, a pack of lies unfolded. She insisted that the items of Lily's property had been given to her by Lily to pawn and that Lily was confused and probably forgotten that she had given them to her.
 
On Wednesday, the 7th of April, Louie came before Leeds City magistrates charged with Lily's murder and was remanded in custody to stand trial at Leeds Assizes. Her case was heard at the Assizes before Mr. Justice Wright on the 5th and 6th of May and she was, unsurprisingly, found guilty. She accepted her death sentence without apparent shock but claimed that she was pregnant and could not, therefore, be hanged until after she had given birth.  In practice, pregnant women were always reprieved by this time.
 
She was taken to Strangeways prison in Manchester to await execution. (This was unusual as it was normal to send the condemned prisoner to the county prison in which the trial had taken place.) Here she was examined and it was thought that it was just possible, although very unlikely, that she might be in the early stages of pregnancy but that it would not cause a problem to execute her. This caused public concern and a petition for a reprieve containing 2 to 3,000 signatures, many from her home town of Ossett in Yorkshire, was got up. This was, as usual, rejected - her execution being scheduled for the 24th of June. There was even a question in parliament relating to her pregnancy. However, on Tuesday, the 22nd of June, the Home Secretary informed her solicitor, Mr. E. Ould, that there would be no reprieve and that the story of her pregnancy was not believed to be true. As stated above, the autopsy confirmed that it was just another of Louie's lies.
 
Whilst in the condemned cell, Louie confessed to the murder of John Frobisher in 1922. At the time, she was calling herself Mrs. Louise Gomersall and worked as John Frobisher's housekeeper at Mercy Street, Wellington Lane, Leeds. His body had been found by a policeman floating in a canal on the 12th of July 1922, he had a wound on the back of his head and a fractured skull. A degree of suspicion had fallen on Louie initially but the Coroner's Court returned a verdict of misadventure and ruled that his death was a simple drowning. Once again, the body was discovered fully dressed but without any boots on. One of the police officers in the Waterhouse case had also been involved in the Frobisher case and remembered that John had been discovered without his boots, and that they were nowhere to be found on the bank, facts which seemed unusual in a case of accidental drowning.
 
Strangely, in two completely unrelated cases of murder, she had stolen in addition to the their "valuables", her victim's boots even though they didn't fit her. Her motive for this is unclear - unless she really did have a boot fetish. It seems the motive certainly for Mrs. Waterhouse's murder was gain and it was probably the same in John Frobisher's case. It seems hard to believe she killed for the boots but rather took them as an afterthought.
Louie was poor and lived in difficult times, as did so many other men and women in Britain at the time. She was also a pathological liar and had a bad temper, but what made her turn to murder? Was it simply the easy way, in her uneducated mind, of covering up her thefts or was it something deeper within her personality? Sadly, we will never know the answer to this, as having been examined and found to be sane for legal purposes, nobody was very interested in getting to the bottom of her as a person. Her life and death would have passed virtually un-remembered had it not been for her predilection for her victim's boots.
A sad life and a sad death with at least two other victims along the way.

 
Ethel Major
 
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If it had not been for an anonymous letter writer, Ethel would probably have got away with it. Ethel Lillie Brown, born in 1891, was the only daughter of a Lincolnshire gamekeeper and was brought up in a good home with her three brothers on the estate of Sir Henry Hawley. When she left school she worked as a dressmaker but, in 1914, became pregnant. To avoid the stigma her parents brought up the child, Auriel, as Ethel's sister.

In 1918 she met Arthur Major, who had returned a hero from the Great War, but with serious wounds. The couple married on 1st June 1918 and the next year their son, Lawrence, was born and, in 1929, the family moved to Kirkby-on-Bain.
 
By 1934, Ethel had become a cantankerous, bad tempered woman who was disliked throughout the neighbourhood. Early in the year Arthur started to hear some of the rumours that had long been circulating about his wife's younger 'sister'. When he confronted her about it she admitted the rumours were true but refused to name the father. After this Ethel would only spend the evening hours with her husband, travelling with her son to her father's house to spend the night there.
 
Ethel accused her husband of having an affair with a neighbour, Rose Kettleborough, and produced letters to her husband that she said the woman had written. Every indication was, however, that Ethel had written them herself. Arthur retaliated by declaring in the Horncastle News that he would not be held responsible for any debts incurred by his wife.
 
One day in the spring of 1934, Arthur sat down on the edge of the gravel pit, where he worked, to eat his lunch. Another worker sat next to him. Arthur spat out the first mouthful of his sandwich and commented "I'm damned sure that woman is trying to poison me." He threw the sandwich away and birds flew down to peck at it. They promptly fell dead.
 
On 23rd May, Arthur came home from work feeling unwell. He retired to bed and a doctor was called. When he arrived, Dr Smith found Arthur sweating, convulsive and unable to talk. Ethel told the doctor that she had given her husband some corned beef and that he had been liable to fits for a couple of years. The doctor concluded that Arthur was suffering from a mild form of epilepsy and prescribed a sedative. The next day Ethel went to the doctor and told him that her spouse had died. Ethel started making plans for the funeral.
 
Next day police received a note that said "Sir, Have you ever heard of a wife poisoning her husband? Look further into the death (by heart failure) of Mr Major of Kirkby-on-Bain. Why did he complain of his food tasting nasty and throw it to a neighbour's dog, which has since died? Ask the undertaker if he looked natural after death. Why did he stiffen so quickly? Why was he so jerky when dying? I myself have heard her threaten to poison him years ago. In the name of the law, I beg you to analyse the contents of his stomach." It was signed "Fairplay." The police quickly obtained a coroner's order postponing the funeral. The dog and parts of Arthur's body were sent to Dr Roche Lynch of St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. The Home Office pathologist determined that both Arthur and the dog had died from strychnine poisoning.
 
When she was interviewed by Chief Inspector Hugh Young, Ethel went to great pains to point out that she suspected that the corned beef had caused food poisoning and that she had nothing to do with preparing her husband's food. She insisted that she would have nothing to do with corned beef, "I hate corned beef and I think it is a waste of money to buy such rubbish."
 
When Ethel was interviewed again she got too clever and gave herself away. She told CI Young "I did not know my husband died from strychnine poisoning." The officer replied "I never mentioned strychnine, how did you know that?" "Oh, I'm sorry." she replied, "I must have made a mistake." She had indeed. The house was searched but nothing untoward was found. Backing a hunch, Young contacted her father, Mr Brown. He admitted that he kept strychnine that he used to kill vermin. It was kept in a locked box to which he had the only key. Then he remembered that there had been another key, but that had been lost some ten years previously. The Major house was searched again. An old key was found that fitted none of the locks in the house. It was taken back to the Brown home where it was found to fit the locked poisons box.
 
Her trial was at Lincoln Assizes in November 1934 and Ethel was defended by Norman Birkett. Birkett had never lost a murder case in his long and distinguished career. Even he could find no effective defence for the woman and she was found guilty, though the jury added a recommendation to mercy. This was ignored and she was sentenced to death. No reprieve was forthcoming and Ethel Major was hanged at Hull Gaol on December 19th 1934 by Thomas Pierrepoint.

 
Dorothea Waddingham
 
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Dorothea was born at Hucknall near Nottingham in 1900 and after leaving school worked in a factory for a while before taking up a post at the Burton on Trent Workhouse infirmary in Staffordshire. Here she picked up quite a lot of medical knowledge whilst working on the wards and afterwards passed herself off a nurse. She married Thomas Leech in 1925 and they had three children, Edwin, Alan and Mary over their eight year marriage. Thomas sadly developed cancer of the throat and died in 1933.
 
Dorothea now reverted to her maiden name and formed a relationship with their erstwhile lodger, Ronald Sullivan, who was six years her senior. Together they decided to open a nursing home at 32 Devon Drive, Nottingham. This was recognised by the county authorities who considered Dorothea a competent nurse. On the 12th of January of 1935 a Miss Blagg of the County Nursing Association asked them to take a couple of new patients for thirty shillings (£1.50) a week. The newcomers were Louisa Baguley, a widow of eighty nine and her daughter Ada who was fifty.  Ada was disabled by a progressive disease that left her unable to walk and her elderly mother could no longer look after her. At the time there was one other resident who died in February leaving Dorothea with a wholly inadequate income of just the thirty shillings a week. Ronald helped Dorothea run the nursing home and the couple were to have two children of their own.
 
On the 4th of May Ada summoned her solicitor, Mr. Lane and told him she wished to change her will. She was to leave all of her savings, some £1,600, to Dorothea and Ronald on the condition that they would look after both Louisa and herself for the rest of their lives. It is unclear whether Ada was persuaded/pressurised by Dorothea to take this step or whether she had decided on this course herself. It had been suggested that Dorothea had threatened to send the two women to the workhouse as she couldn’t afford to keep them. The workhouse would have been a dreadful threat in Ada’s mind. 
 
On Sunday the 12th of May Louisa died of what was determined to be cardio-vascular problems. In a woman of nearly ninety her death did not arouse any suspicion and a death certificate allowing her burial was issued.
 
Ada continued to live happily at Devon Drive through the summer of 1935 and was visited by a friend of hers, Mrs. Briggs, on Tuesday the 10th of September who found her in good spirits. The following morning Dorothea called Dr. Mansfield, Ada’s doctor, and told him that Ada had gone into a coma. When he arrived Ada had died and he thought that she had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. Dorothea showed him a letter that Ada had written on the 29th of August, expressing her wish to be cremated. Dr. Mansfield issued a death certificate and also certificate permitting cremation. The two certificates together with Ada’s letter were sent to the crematorium where they were read by Nottingham’s Medical Officer for Health, Dr. Cyril Banks. He noted that the words “my last wish is that my relatives shall not know of my death” appeared to have been inserted after the original letter had been written as they were in a cramped style. Ronald Sullivan had written the letter for Ada but she had signed it. Dr. Banks was suspicious and decided to order a post mortem. This revealed that Ada had actually been poisoned with morphine. Louisa’s remains were therefore also exhumed and morphine was found in her too.
 
Both Dorothea and Ronald were arrested and charged with the murders. Dorothea had recently given birth to her fifth child and nursed it in prison. 
The couple appeared before Mr. Justice Goddard at Nottinghamshire Assizes on the 24th of February. Mr. Norman Birkett led the prosecution and Mr. J. F. Eales the defence. Ronald was discharged by the judge on the second day of the trial due to a lack of any real evidence against him, leaving Dorothea to face trial alone. The court heard the forensic evidence of morphine poisoning and the testimony of Mrs. Briggs and Dr. Mansfield. Dorothea’s defence suggested that Dr. Mansfield had given her morphine tablets for Ada for when she was in pain. Dr. Mansfield strongly denied having given any tablets to Dorothea for Ada, especially morphine. Dorothea described to the court the last two days of Ada’s life. According to Dorothea Ada was depressed and in great pain so she had given her up to ten tablets over two days and in the early hours of the Wednesday morning found her in a coma. This information was contained in a statement made to the police on the 24th of September, after the post mortem result was known. Previously Dorothea had told the police that Ada had eaten a large lunch on the Tuesday and appeared to be well. Dorothea’s evidence was less than convincing as was her general performance in the witness box.
 
On the third day of the trial the jury took two and a quarter hours to reach a guilty verdict and for whatever reason added a recommendation to mercy. Mr. Justice Goddard sentenced Dorothea to death and obviously did not concur with the jury’s recommendation, neither did the Home Secretary, John Simon.
As Nottingham no longer had an execution facility Dorothea was transferred to the condemned suite at Birmingham’s Winson Green prison to await her fate. Her appeal was rejected and the execution was set for eight o’clock on Thursday the 16th of April 1936. Dorothea was the only woman ever to be hanged at Winson Green.
 
Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert carried it the hanging. It was to be Thomas’ last female execution and Albert’s first.  
Dorothea was weighed and measured the day before and was recorded at 4’ 11” tall and 123 lbs in weight. She was thus given a drop of 8’ 5”. Large numbers of people had gathered outside the prison on the Wednesday afternoon to protest the execution of a mother of five, even though she had poisoned two vulnerable people for financial gain. The protest was led by the noted anti capital punishment campaigner, Mrs. Violet Van der Elst. By the Thursday morning the crowd outside the prison had grown to an estimated 5,000 and their hymns could be heard within.
By 8.01 a.m. Dorothea was hanging limply in cell below the gallows and was examined by the prison doctor using a stethoscope to ensure that she was dead. The execution chamber was locked up for an hour. The Pierrepoints returned at nine o’clock and undressed her and put a rope around her body under her arms, lifting her up with a block and tackle attached to the chain on the gallows beam, for removal of the noose and hood. Her body was then lowered on to a stretcher and made ready for autopsy. A formal inquest was held and Dorothea later buried in the prison grounds.
 
Charlotte Bryant
 
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Background.
 
Charlotte Bryant was born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1904, her maiden name being McHugh. Little is known of her childhood, but by age 19 she was a nice looking girl with raven black hair and attractive eyes who fraternised with the British soldiers in the Province and was nicknamed "Darkie" by them. She was illiterate, ill educated and notably promiscuous. Her activities were strongly disapproved of by the Republicans and she was threatened with tarring and feathering - a fate that befell quite a few girls who went out with British soldiers during "The Troubles."
Charlotte is pictured with one of her babies when she was in her late 20's.
 
In 1922, she met Frederick Bryant who was eight years her senior. Frederick was serving as a military policeman in the Dorset Regiment. He had served in the army during the 1st World War and was described as a simple country lad. He immediately fell for Charlotte's physical charms. When Frederick's tour of duty ended, he returned to England and Charlotte went with him. They married a little while later at Wells in Somerset. Frederick resumed civilian life as a farm labourer and by 1925, was working as a cowman at a farm near Yeovil, in the village of Over Compton. Like most small rural villages there was little to do and even less excitement. Social life revolved round the local pub. In the 13 years of their marriage, Charlotte gave Frederick 5 children, although whether he was the father of all of them is open to question.
 
Charlotte was very highly sexed and soon became bored with village life, compared to the excitement of life around the Londonderry barracks, with plenty of attentive and free spending soldiers and a good sex life. She didn't work as such and spent her days drinking and indulging in a little prostitution - one feels as much for the sex as for the money. She was known as Black Bess or Killarney Kate by the villagers and was thought of as a drunken slut. Surprisingly, Frederick seemed indifferent to these "goings on" to use an expression of the time. As he told a neighbour "I don't care what she does. Four pounds a week is better than 30 shillings" (£1.50 a week, which he earned as a cowman).
 
In December 1933, Charlotte met Leonard Edward Parsons, a horse trader and gypsy, who took up lodgings in the Bryant's cottage and with whom she had an affair. In 1934, Frederick Bryant was sacked from his job as a farm labourer, as his employer was not happy about what was going on in his tied cottage. They then moved to the village of Coombe, near Sherborne, where again Frederick found employment as a farm labourer. The move did not change the domestic circumstances, Parsons simply moved with them and his and Charlotte's affair continued unabated.
Parsons did not live with the Bryants on a permanent basis but rather stayed there between business trips. He had a common law wife, Priscilla Loveridge, by whom he had fathered four children. Initially Parsons and Frederick Bryant appeared to get on quite well and drank together in the local pub. Domestic life, however, was somewhat different with Charlotte and Parsons sharing the marital bed while Frederick had to sleep on the sofa on occasion.
 
Eventually, Frederick could stand the situation no longer and ordered Parsons to leave. Charlotte went too and she and Parsons rented rooms in Dorchester. She soon returned to the family home however. A few days later all three had a meeting and Parsons was allowed back into the house. It appeared that Charlotte had become totally besotted with Parsons, and though he enjoyed her sexual favours, her love was not returned and the relationship began to deteriorate. This was something however, she was to deny at her trial.
 
The murder.
 
In May 1935, Frederick, who was then 39 years old, was taken ill for the first time, immediately after eating the lunch that Charlotte had cooked. He had severe stomach pains. Helped by a neighbour who induced vomiting, he began to feel a little easier. The doctor came to see him and diagnosed gastro-enteritis, and after a few days, Frederick Bryant returned to work. A further attack followed in August and again Frederick made a full recovery. In November 1935, Parsons dropped a huge bombshell into Charlotte's life by announcing that he was leaving. His stated reason was the lack of work in that part of Dorset, although the deterioration in Charlotte's looks may have had far more to do with it.
 
On December the 11th, 1935, Frederick was again taken ill with severe stomach pains from which, once more, he recovered. Charlotte continued to search for Parsons in the local pubs but without success. She did, however, form a new relationship with a woman called Lucy Ostler who was a widow with 7 children. Lucy moved into the Bryant's home and witnessed Frederick's final attack on the night of December the 22nd, 1935. He once again suffered extremely severe stomach pains. This time it was so bad that he was admitted to hospital in Sherborne where he died in the afternoon of the 23rd. His death was regarded as suspicious by the doctors and therefore a post mortem was carried out. Analysis of his tissues by Home Office pathologist, Dr. Roche Lynch, found 4.09 grains of arsenic in the body. These findings were reported to Dorset Constabulary who visited Charlotte and removed her and the children to a workhouse in Sturminster Newton while they conducted a minute search of the Bryant's cottage and garden. Of the 150 odd samples sent to the Home Office laboratory, 32 contained arsenic. Among the items recovered was a burnt tin which had contained an arsenic-based weed killer. Armed with this vital piece of information, the police systematically visited all the local chemists shops to try and establish where the weed killer had been purchased and by whom. Their efforts bore fruit and they discovered a Yeovil chemist who had sold a tin of the weed killer to a woman who only signed the poisons register with an X. (remember, Charlotte could not write, a fact known to all who knew her). The chemist, however, was unable to identify either Charlotte or Lucy Ostler in a subsequent identity parade.
On February the 10th, 1936, Charlotte who was still at the workhouse in Sturminster Newton, was arrested and charged with the murder of her husband. She is reported to have told the officers that arrested her, "I haven't got poison from anywhere and that people know. I don't see how they can say I poisoned my husband."
 
The trial.
 
The trial opened on Wednesday, May the 27th,1936, at the Dorset Assizes in Dorchester before Mr. Justice MacKinnon. It was to last just four days, which was by no means unusual in capital murder trials in those days. As it was a high profile poisoning case, the prosecution case was led by the Solicitor-General, Sir Terrence O'Connor. Charlotte was defended by the well known barrister Mr. J.D. Casswell KC.
 
The prosecution argued that the case was a classic eternal triangle and that Charlotte poisoned her husband to be able to have Parsons. They could not show direct evidence that Charlotte either bought or administered the arsenic although the circumstantial evidence supported this theory. Lucy Ostler testified against Charlotte and told the court that on the night Frederick died, Charlotte had made him an Oxo drink and that he was violently sick after taking it. She also related how she had explained to Charlotte what an inquest was and alleged that Charlotte had told her that she hated Frederick and only stayed with him because of the children. She told the court about the tin of weed killer and how Charlotte had said that she would have to get rid of it.
She mentioned how she had found the remains of burnt clothing in the boiler and then discovered the remains of the tin amongst the ashes which she had thrown into the yard where the police discovered it.
 
Mr. Casswell was unable to shake Lucy Ostler who stuck to her damning allegations against Charlotte. Leonard Parsons' testimony did not help her case either. He told the court how they had intercourse on numerous occasions. Nowadays, this may not seem shocking but in 1936, promiscuity and adultery were considered totally unacceptable and had the effect of painting Charlotte as a "scarlet" woman - something that probably bore considerable weight with the jury.
 
Forensic evidence was presented by Dr. Roche Lynch who had analysed the various samples taken from the Bryant's home. He demonstrated to the court how arsenic could be dissolved in Oxo and not be spotted by a person drinking it. He also told the court that he had found that the ashes from the boiler in which Charlotte was alleged to have tried to destroy the weed killer tin contained 149 parts per million of arsenic whereas ashes normally contained around 45 parts per million. Altogether 30 witnesses had testified for the prosecution and painted a dire picture of the woman in the dock.
Mr. Casswell called Charlotte as a witness with some trepidation, but in fact she did much better than he expected. She denied knowing about poison or possessing any weed killer. She also demonstrated to the court that an old coat in which traces of arsenic had been found and which it was alleged that she had worn when she bought the weed killer, did not fit her at all.
Interestingly, she told the court that she was pleased when Parsons left their house and that she had lost interest in him, rather than the other way round.
 
Charlotte's older children gave evidence next, but their testimony was in fact very damaging to their mother's case. They related how she had asked Ernest, her older son, to dispose of some blue bottles in late December. Her daughter, Lily, told how she had seen Parsons with a blue bottle whose contents had fizzed when poured onto a stone by Parsons in front of Charlotte.
 
Once all the evidence had been heard and the closing statements made by both sides, Mr. Justice MacKinnon commenced the summing up. He asked the jury to consider two principle questions - was Frederick Bryant poisoned with arsenic and if so, was that arsenic administered by Charlotte. He noted that Charlotte had been present on each occasion her husband had been ill and that two of the bouts of sickness had occurred before Lucy Ostler (a possible suspect) had come into the household.
 
On Saturday the 30th, the jury after deliberating for just an hour returned a verdict of guilty against Charlotte. When asked if she had anything to say before sentence was passed, she replied in a calm voice "I am not guilty." Mr. Justice MacKinnon had the black cap placed upon his wig and then passed the only sentence the law permitted in 1936. He sentenced her to be taken hence to the prison in which she had been last confined and from there to a place of execution where she was to be hanged by her neck until she was dead. Her body to be buried in the precincts of the prison in which she was last confined. To which he added the customary rider "and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul" There was considerable emotion in the court and Mr. Justice MacKinnon seemed to have difficulty saying these dread words to her. On hearing her sentence, Charlotte broke down and was led sobbing from the dock.
 
Appeal.
 
After the trial, Mr. Caswell received a letter from a Professor Bone who had read about the case in his Sunday paper. He told Mr. Caswell that far from 149 parts per million of arsenic that Dr. Roche had found in the ashes was on the low side for ashes and certainly not an unusually high amount, as Dr. Roche had told the court. Professor Bone later provided the defence with a signed statement to this effect.
Charlotte's appeal was heard on the 29th of June at the Appeal Court in London. Amazingly, the Appeal Court refused to hear the evidence of Professor Bone and concluded that even if the jury had been correctly advised by Dr. Roche, that the outcome of the trial would have been the same. Thus her appeal was denied and her sentence stood. At this time, it would have been unprecedented for the Court of Appeal to admit new evidence - it just concerned itself with the conduct of the trial. However, one could argue that Professor Bone's statement was not new evidence but rather a correction of flawed evidence that had already been given at the original trial by the prosecution's "expert" witness.
 
In the condemned cell.
 
Charlotte spent almost 6 weeks in the condemned cell, where her once raven hair had turned completely white, presumably due to the stress of her situation. She decided, after much agonising, against seeing her children as she felt it would be too much for them to bear. She was visited regularly by Father Barney, a Catholic priest, who prayed with her and had a small altar set up in her cell. 
She began to learn to read and write with the help of the shifts of female warders who looked after her round the clock and was able to dictate a telegram to the King asking for clemency. She also wrote a letter in which she said "It is all fault ............ I'm here. I listened to the tales I was told. But I have not got long now and I will be out of my troubles. God bless my children." The Home Office obliterated the name in this note so we will never know whose fault Charlotte thought it was.
 
A lot had been going on behind the scenes to try and save Charlotte. Sir Stafford Cripps, at that time a Member of Parliament, had applied to the Home Secretary to declare a mistrial and order a new one on the grounds of the flawed evidence. Questions had also been raised in the House of Parliament about the case and the usual petitions got up.
There appeared to be an unwritten rule at the Home Office that poisoners should not be reprieved and this practice was followed in Charlotte's case. On the Tuesday (the day before her execution), the Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, declined on the advice of his officials to grant a reprieve or a new trial. The prison governor had the unpleasant job of communicating this to Charlotte and telling her that the execution would take place, as planned, the following morning.
 
Execution.
 
Strangely, Charlotte was neither confined or hanged at Dorchester prison (in the county in which she was convicted and sentenced) although it continued to have an execution chamber which was last used for the hanging of David Jennings in July 1941. Instead she was sent to Exeter jail, in neighbouring Devon, to await execution. Although nobody was executed at Dorchester during this time, the condemned cell may have been in use for a prisoner who was subsequently reprieved. Charlotte was led to the gallows at 8.00 a.m. on Wednesday, July the 15th, 1936 by Tom Pierrepoint assisted by Thomas Phillips. By an odd coincidence, a man called George Bryant (no relation) had been hanged the previous day at Wandsworth.
 
As was the norm, by 1936 Charlotte's execution was an entirely secret affair and there were no reporters present. However, she was attended by a Catholic priest, Father Barney, who was not bound by Home Office rules of secrecy. He later described her last moments as "truly edifying." "She met her end with Christian fortitude." He reported, however, that she never confessed to the murder.
In accordance with her sentence, after autopsy, her body was buried in the grounds of the prison, probably at lunch time, that same day.
Charlotte left the tiny sum of 5 shillings and 8 pence halfpenny (about 29p) to her children, who being now orphaned, were taken into the care of Dorset County Council.
 
Arsenic poisoning.
 
Arsenic is a metallic poison and was one of the most frequently used poisons by murderers. It was still quite readily available in 1936, particularly in the agricultural and leather tanning industries. The poison’s register had to be signed when arsenic weed killers and rat poisons were purchased from chemist's shops.
It causes vomiting and diarrhoea and its effects are cumulative. Thus it can be administered little by little over a long period of time, rather than in one large and noticeable (to the victim) dose. It builds up in the tissues and particularly in the hair and nails of the victim. By 1936, it was easily spotted by forensic scientists. A century earlier in 1836, English chemist, James Marsh, had developed a reliable test for arsenic in body tissues. His process was very sensitive and could detect as little as a fiftieth of a milligram of the substance. Prior to that it often went undetected when stomach upsets, dysentery and gastro-enteritis were all common and quite often fatal. This was due to the poor hygiene standards and lack of refrigeration in those days.
 
Briton's most prolific female serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton, used arsenic to poison anything up to 20 victims in 1860's and early 1870's and nearly got away with it.
 
Conclusions.
 
In view of the seriously flawed forensic evidence, should Charlotte have been granted a re-trial? On the balance of probability, she was guilty, but this piece of totally incorrect evidence surely made her conviction unsafe and unsatisfactory to use the modern term. The witness evidence and circumstantial evidence remains strong and it is probable that the right decision was reached. However, flawed evidence leads to a lack of public confidence in the justice system.
 
One wonders how much Charlotte's lowly status and acknowledged promiscuity played in the decision to neither reprieve her or grant a new trial. Sadly, Britain was very much a class ridden society in 1936 and Charlotte was virtually at the bottom of the social pile - an illiterate, immoral slut. Were people like her simply expendable and their well publicised executions considered as a good lesson to other women not to stray from the "straight and narrow" paths of morality, as perceived by a male dominated society? It is noteworthy that Edith Thompson too seems to have been hanged more for immorality than murder.

Margaret Allen
 
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The murder of Nancy Chadwick in 1948 interests many criminologists. What led her killer to brutally end her life? Was it greed?, uncontrollable anger? or a mental disorder? Perhaps all of these factors contributed to the crime? Some authors have described the slaying as 'mindless' and 'motiveless'; others suggest that Mrs Chadwick was 'killed on a whim' and see it as a baffling enigma - the work of an unstable and erratic person who is beyond rational evaluation.
 
Margaret Allen, her killer, was a troubled and gender-confused individual. In more modern times, she would have been seen as a transexual and could have sought appropriate help for her problems; but Allen was born in 1906 (she was part of an immense working class family - the twentieth child of twenty-two offspring) and lived in an age when people like herself were not understood.
 
From an early age, she denied her own femininity and strove to act in a masculine manner. Allen preferred the company of burly male workers in her home town Rawtenstall (in Lancashire, England) and took on jobs usually given to men. She loaded coal, repaired houses and became a bus conductor. Unfortunately, her desire to adopt 'male traits' led her to swear, act aggresively and resort to physical violence. The bus company fired her for abusing passengers; customers who didn't take their seats quickly enough were likely to be verbally assaulted, shoved and cuffed.
 
 
In 1935, Allen claimed that she'd checked into a hospital for what she described as a "delicate" operation. Later, she suggested that the purpose of this procedure had been to change her "from a woman to a man." It seems likely that Allen was being untruthful about (or at least exaggerating) the nature of any treatment she received. Perhaps she so desperately wanted to change her gender (and be accepted as a man) that she sought to convince herself and/or others that she had been physically altered.
 
Whatever the real facts of the matter were, after asserting that she'd had the operation, Allen made no pretence about her turnabout sexual role; she called herself "Bill", cut her hair short, donned male clothes and drank in public houses (bars) and working men's clubs. She had no female friends except for Mrs. Annie Cook. Allen apparently saw this lady as a potential 'girlfriend' - but their relationship stalled when Allen took Mrs. Cook on vacation and asked to have sex with her. The offended Mrs. Cook refused and made it clear that she had no interest in Allen as a lover.
 
In 1943, when her mother died, Allen was badly affected and she became even more withdrawn from 'normal' social activities. Her smoking became excessive, she didn't eat properly, allowed herself to become unkempt and went through bouts of bleak depression.
 
Allen invested her savings in the purchase of a dilapidated building that once served as Rawtenstall's Police Headquarters, situated on the town's main street, Bacup Road. She lived alone and (according to Mrs Cook) tried to kill herself on at least one occasion with gas -  in the United Kingdom, as many British readers will recall, natural gas didn't generally replace coal gas (which is highly toxic) as a cooking/heating fuel until the 1970's.
 
On August 28th, 1948, 68 years old widow Mrs. Nancy Ellen Chadwick, a disagreeable local eccentric, knocked on Allen's door. Although evidently not poor, Chadwick (who was known to carry large sums of money around in a bag), was a miser who would rather scrounge off others than spend her own cash. 
 
The next day Chadwick's body was found on the road outside Allen's house. Her head had been battered. At first it was suspected that she was a 'hit and run' victim. But the Police later determined that her wounds had been caused by the pointed end of a coal hammer; the implement had evidently been coated with ashes. Detectives from Scotland Yard were called in. Their task was made relatively easy by a trail of blood which could be followed from the place where the corpse was found to Allen's residence. 
 
Allen blatantly dogged the investigators' footsteps; staring at them for long periods as they inspected the area. At one point, she rushed up to a detective, pulled at his sleeve and pointed to the nearby River Irwell, declaring: "Look, there's something there!". The object floating in the water was Mrs. Chadwick's bag (minus the money it had contained).
 
As the Police delved with calm deliberation, Margaret Allen, perhaps made over-confident by their methodical approach and intent on being the centre of attention, barged into the local pub and declared: "I was the last person to see the old woman!". For two days she returned to the bar to drink stout and share her opinions about the crime with other drinkers and increasingly curious journalists. "She was an old fool to sit on a roadside bench counting her money" Allen stated revealingly to her listeners. She also let it be known that the victim had been wearing an underskirt with a hidden pocket.
 
When the Police called at her home on September 1st, 1948, they noticed bloodstains on an inside wall close to the doorway. A short search of the building yielded enough evidence to convict Allen of the Chadwick murder; more blood marks were in the cellar, the investigators matched hairs from the head of the victim to Allen's clothing and discovered several effects belonging to Chadwick. It only remained for Allen to confess. When formally charged, Margaret Allen admitted to killing the old woman:
 
"I was in a funny mood...she seemed to insist on coming in (to the house). I just happened to look around and saw a hammer in the kitchen...on the spur of the moment I hit her...she gave me a shout and that seemed to start me off more and I hit her a few times - I don't know how many..."
 
She gave no other explanation. At her trial (which barely lasted five hours), she wore male clothing; despite attempts by her counsel to prove her insane, Allen was found guilty and sentenced to death. Her friend Mrs. Cook created a petition to ask for a commutation - but only 162 people (out of the town's population of almost 30,000) signed it.
 
In the condemned cell, Margaret Allan was belligerent and argumentative to the end. She complained about the lack of creature comforts afforded by the prison and when brought her last meal (she had requested a plate of scrambled eggs), she kicked the tray, scattering the food and remarking: "At least no one else will enjoy that meal!".
 
British hangings were usually incredibly speedy affairs. It was considered an act of mercy to be as swift as possible - though, for many years, executions in Scotland took rather longer because the regulations 'north of the border' required the sentence to be read to the condemned individual beforehand. Even so, there was usually time for the prisoner to utter a few words. On the morning of January 12th, 1949, Margaret Allen expressed no remorse and went to the scaffold in the execution chamber without making any final statement.
 
Louisa Merrifield
 
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Lousia Merrifield, at the age of 46, had been married three times and already served a prison sentence for fraud. With her third husband, 71 year old Alfred, she had had 20 domestic jobs in almost 3 years.
 
On 12 March 1953 the Merrifields accepted a position as resident housekeepers and companions to Mrs. Sarah Ann Ricketts, an elderly woman who owned a modern bungalow in Blackpool. Friction soon arose, with Mrs. Ricketts complaining that she did not get enough to eat and Louisa boasting to various friends that she had worked for an old woman who had died and left her a bungalow worth GBP 3000 (in 1953 money). When asked who had died, Louisa Merrifield replied "She's not dead yet, but she soon will be".
 
On 9 April 1953 Louisa asked a Doctor to certify that Mrs. Ricketts was fit and sane enough to make a new will. On 14 April 1953, Mrs. Ricketts died. Her post-mortem revealed that she had died from phosphorous poisoning. The police searched the bungalow and its garden, with the Merrifields still in residence, although they found no poison. Lousia Merrifield requested the local Salvation Army band to play "Abide with Me" outside the bungalow.
 
Lousia and Alfred Merrifield were both tried together with murder at Manchester in July 1953. The prosecution's case was that the Merrifields had murdered Mrs. Ricketts with phosphorous in the form of a rat poison, and that they would benefit financially from Mrs. Ricketts' death. Witnesses also testified to the earlier remarks made by Lousia Merrifield about her wealthy old women who had not died yet.
 
Louisa Merrifield was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. The jury failed to reach a verdict on Alfred Merrifield. He was released and inherited a half-share in the late Mrs. Ricketts' bungalow. He died, aged 80, in 1962.
 
Lousia Merrifield was hanged at Manchester's Strangeways Prison on 18 September 1953.
 
Styllou Christofi
 
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The penultimate British female hanging was that of Styllou Pantopiou Christofi, a fifty four year old Greek Cypriot, at London’s Holloway prison on Wednesday the 15th of December, 1954.
 
Styllou had been convicted of the murder of her daughter in law, thirty six year old Hella Dorothea Christofis whom she had battered and strangled to death at their home at 11 South Hill Park, Hampstead, London on Wednesday the 28th of July, 1954. 
Hella who was of German origin, had been married to Styllou’s son, Stavros, for some fifteen years and the couple had three children. They enjoyed a happy marriage until Styllou went to live with them in July 1953. The two women bickered and rowed about the way that Hella bought up the children which did not accord to Styllou’s old fashioned views. The situation reached the point where Hella had had enough and decided to take the children and herself on holiday to Germany, telling Stavros that she didn’t expect to find her mother in law still there when she returned. 
 
It was now that Styllou decided to kill Hella. Once her son had gone off to his work as a waiter at the Café de Paris and the grandchildren were safely tucked up in bed, she firstly hit Hella over the head with the ash can from the range. She now dragged the unconscious woman into the kitchen and strangled her with a scarf. In a futile attempt to destroy the evidence of murder Styllou pulled the dead body out into the yard where she put paraffin soaked newspaper round it and set fire to it. A neighbour, John Young who was letting his dog out, noticed the fire in the back yard and could see what appeared to him to be a tailor’s dummy being burnt. Styllou went into the street and raised the alarm with a passing motorist around one o’clock on the Thursday morning, shouting “Please come. Fire burning. Children sleeping”. The fire brigade were able to save the house and the children who were asleep upstairs. They discovered the charred body of a woman in the yard and noticed a long red mark around the neck. Styllou had hoped that the body would be too badly burned to reveal anything. The police were now called and a search of the house revealed Hella’s wedding ring wrapped in a piece of paper in Styllou’s room. She told the officers that she had been asleep and had been awakened by the sound of two male voices downstairs. She went down stairs and had seen one man in the yard, before going to Hella’s bedroom where she got no reply when she knocked on the door. She then saw the body on fire in the yard and went for some water to douse the flames with. The police were less than impressed with this tale and arrested Styllou at the scene. She was subsequently charged with murder after Hella’s post mortem and the inquest had established the precise causes of death.
Stavros begged his mother and her lawyers to plead insanity but Styllou declined, saying that “I am a poor woman of no education, but I am not a mad woman.”
 
Dr. T. Christie, the Principal Medical Officer at Holloway Prison, examined Styllou while she was on remand and stated in a report dated the 5th of October, 1954, that after observation of the prisoner since the 30th of July, 1954, he had formed the conclusion that she was insane, but was medically fit to plead and to stand trial. He found her to be suffering from a delusional disorder that made her fear that her grandchildren would not be bought up properly by Hella and that she would in time be excluded from seeing them due to the clash of cultures between the two women. This seems an entirely reasonable conclusion but did it make Styllou insane? A copy of that report was furnished to the defence. Styllou would not consent to an electro-encephalograph examination and this was not carried out.
Styllou came to trial at the Old Bailey on the 25th October 1954 before Mr. Justice Devlin. Evidence was presented by Mr. Christmas Humphreys of the injuries to Hella and the subsequent fire and conflicting stories told to the police by Styllou. It took the jury of ten men and two women just under two hours to bring in a guilty verdict. Styllou was returned to Holloway. She appealed against her conviction on the 29th of November 1954 (appeal number 912) but this was dismissed.
 
Under the provisions of the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1884 the Home Secretary had a duty to have a condemned prisoner examined by prison psychiatrists if there was concern over their sanity. Gwilym Lloyd George, the then Home Secretary, ordered this and Styllou was found to be sane by three psychiatrists against the legal standards of the day. The doctors reported that the prisoner was not in their view insane; and that in their view she did not suffer from any minor mental abnormality which would justify them in making any recommendation for a reprieve on medical grounds. On the 12th of December it was announced that there would be no reprieve and that the execution would be carried out on Wednesday the 15th of December. Six Labour MP’s tabled a motion condemning the decision not to reprieve.
 
Her execution was the to be the first at Holloway since Edith Thompson had been hanged there over thirty years previously in January 1923 and took place in the execution room on E Wing.
In the Condemned Suite Prisoner 8034 Christofi was guarded round the clock by teams of wardresses and asked for a Greek Orthodox Cross to be put up on the wall of the execution chamber where she would be able to see it in her last moments. On the morning of execution Styllou was made to wear the mandatory rubberised canvas underpants. Albert Pierrepoint carried out the execution at nine o’clock on the Wednesday morning, assisted by Harry Allen. Being of slight build at under five feet tall and weighing just one hundred and seventeen pounds, Albert gave her a drop of eight feet four inches. The notice of execution was posted on the prison gates a few minutes later. Styllou’s body was autopsied and a formal inquest held at 11 am, prior to burial within the grounds just after noon conducted by Fr. Kalenicos and Rev J. H. William.
Albert Pierrepoint noted in his autobiography how little press interest there was in Styllou’s execution. One wonders if it was because she was middle aged, unattractive and foreign?
 
Styllou’s body was exhumed and reburied in Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey when Holloway was redeveloped in 1971.
 
After the execution it was revealed that Styllou had been tried for murder once before. She had been acquitted of the murder of her mother in law in Cyprus in 1925.
 
Ruth Ellis
 
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Ruth Ellis has always been portrayed as the victim of a cruel boyfriend who abused her and a cruel legal system that hanged her. But is this really an accurate picture?
 
On Wednesday, the 13th of July 1955 at London's Holloway Prison, she secured her place in history becoming the 17th and last woman to be executed in Britain in the 20th century. Her case is memorable because she was hanged, had she had been given a life sentence she would have been forgotten in a few weeks by most people.
 
Background.
 
Ruth Hornby was born in the seaside town of Rhyll in North Wales on the 9th of October 1925, the third of six children. She moved to London in 1941 and in 1944 became pregnant by a Canadian soldier, giving birth to her son Clare Andrea Neilson. Ruth became a model and also a night club hostess, working initially at the Court Club where she met, and in November 1950 married dentist George Ellis. In 1951, she gave birth to a daughter, Georgina, whom George refused to acknowledge. The couple split up soon afterwards and Ruth went back to nightclub work, becoming the manager of the Little Club in 1953. This was a popular club with the motor racing fraternity and it was here that she met 25 year old, former public school boy, David Drummond Moffat Blakely, who was trying to build a racing car with his friends, the Findlaters. He was soon living with Ruth in her flat above the club and they had a passionate and tempestuous relationship which led to physical violence on occasions. During one of these altercations, in January 1955, he punched her in the stomach which caused her to miscarry. David was known to be a heavy drinker and was jealous of Ruth’s flirting with other club members, as she was of his other relationships.
Ruth began seeing Desmond Cussens, who was some four years her senior. He had been a bomber pilot during World War II and when Ruth knew him was a director of Cussens & Co. She lived with Desmond for a time but continued to see David as well.
 
The Crime.
 
As stated above David was building a racing car with Ant Findlaters, and over Easter weekend of 1955 consistently refused to see her, having promised to do so and despite repeated visits and phone calls by Ruth to the Findlater's home. They had, unfortunately, taken on a nanny whom Ruth suspected David was having an affair with, although in truth he wasn't.
So in a pique of jealousy and rejection on Easter Sunday afternoon (the 10th of April 1955), Ruth persuaded Desmond to drive her to Hampstead where she lay in wait for David outside the Magdala public house in South Hill Park where he and Findlater were drinking.
When they came out to the car at around 9.30 p.m., she called out to David who ignored her, so armed with a 38 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver she fired a first shot and then pursued him round the car firing a second shot, which caused him to collapse onto the pavement. She then stood over him and emptied the remaining four bullets into him, as he lay wounded on the ground. At least one bullet was fired from point blank range and left the tell tale powder burns on his skin. One bullet injured a Mrs. Gladys Yule in the thumb as she was walking up to the pub.
Other drinkers came out of the pub to see what had happened and Ruth was arrested by an off-duty policeman, Alan Thompson, still holding the smoking gun. She was taken to Hampstead police station where she appeared to be calm and not obviously under the influence of drink or drugs, which she is alleged to have been taking by some, on the afternoon prior to the shooting. She made a detailed confession to the police and was charged with murder.
 
Committal and remand. 
 
Ruth appeared at a special hearing of Hampstead Magistrates Court on the Easter Monday, (Aprill11th) where she was remanded in custody to Holloway Prison to await trial. She was placed in the hospital wing and kept under observation day and night. During her initial interview on the Monday afternoon, she again described the details of David’s killing. The Principal Medical Officer, Dr. Mervyn Ralph Penry Williams, examined her and interviewed her twice, finding no evidence of mental illness. Ruth consented to and undertook an electro-encephalograph examination on the 3rd of May. This also failed to find any evidence of brain abnormality. While on remand in Holloway, she was also examined by Dr. D. Whittaker, psychiatrist for the defence, on June the 4th and by Dr. A. Dalzell on behalf of the Home Office, on the 9th of June. Neither man found any evidence of insanity. Ruth discussed her feelings on the days leading up to and including the murder, with Dr. Dalzell, and he reported to the Home Office that he found no evidence of delusions, hallucinations or other form of mental illness. These examinations were required by law to ensure that Ruth was legally sane and therefore fit to plead at her trial. Under the Trial of Lunatics Act of 1883 where evidence existed of insanity at the time of the crime was committed, the accused was to be committed to Broadmoor at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Some 428 people were found to be insane out of 3,130 people (13.6%) who were committed for trial for murder between 1900 and 1949.
 
The trial.
 
Her trial opened on Monday, the 20th of June 1955 in the Old Bailey's No. 1 Court before Mr. Justice Havers. The prosecution was led by Mr. Christmas Humphries, assisted by Mervyn Griffith Jones and Miss Jean Southworth, whilst the defence was led by Mr. Aubrey Melford Stevenson, assisted by Mr. Sebag Shaw and Mr. Peter Rawlinson.
Ruth appeared in the dock in a smart black two piece suit and white blouse, her hair re-dyed to her preferred platinum blonde in Holloway with the special permission of Dr. Charity Taylor, Holloway’s governor. Hardly the image of the poor downtrodden woman! 
She pleaded not guilty, apparently so that her side of the story could be told, rather than in any hope of acquittal. She particularly wanted disclosed the involvement of the Findlaters in what she saw as a conspiracy to keep David away from her.
When the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Christmas Humphreys asked her, "Mrs. Ellis, when you fired that revolver at close range into the body of David Blakely what did you intend to do" she replied, "It was obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him." So the jury were presented with a tacit admission to the shooting plus the all important admission of intent to kill.
There were legal submissions made by Mr. Melford Stevenson, QC, counsel for the defence, regarding provocation. Mr. Justice Havers said he had given careful consideration to these but ruled that there was "insufficient material, even upon a view of the evidence most favourable to the accused, to support a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation."
Mr. Melford Stevenson said that in view of that ruling it would not be appropriate for him to say anything more to the jury.
The jury were then brought back into Court and in their presence Mr. Melford Stevenson said, "In view of the ruling which your Lordship has just pronounced I cannot now with propriety address the jury at all, because it would be impossible for me to do so without inviting them to disregard your Lordship's ruling." 
Mr. Christmas Humphreys indicated that in the circumstances, he would not make a final speech to the jury either.
The Judge then summed up. After reviewing the evidence for the prosecution, his Lordship said: "You will remember that when Mr. Stevenson made his opening address to you he told you that he was going to invite you to reduce this charge of killing from murder to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation.
"The House of Lords has decided that where the question arises whether what would otherwise be murder may be reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation, if there is not sufficient material, even upon a view of the evidence most favourable to the accused, that a reasonable person could be driven by transport of passion and loss of control to use violence and a continuance of violence, it is the duty of a judge, as a matter of law, to direct the jury that the evidence does not support a verdict of manslaughter. I have been constrained to rule in this case that there is not sufficient material to reduce this killing from murder to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation."  “It is therefore not open to you to bring in a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation.” 
Referring to the evidence for the defence, the Judge said: "This Court is not a court of morals, this is a criminal court and you should not allow your judgement to be swayed or your minds to be prejudiced in the least degree against the accused because according to her own admission she had committed adultery, or because she was having two persons at different times as lovers. Dismiss those matters wholly from your minds."
Mr. Justice Havers continued, "But I am bound to tell you this, that even if you accept every word of Mrs Ellis' evidence there does not seem to be anything in it which establishes any sort of defence to the charge of murder." The jury then retired and not surprisingly found Ruth guilty after deliberating for only 23 minutes. It was hard to see how any other verdict was possible.
 
To convict a person of murder two things have to be proved, 1) that the person actually killed the victim (known as the "actus reas" or the "guilty act") and 2) that they intended to kill the victim (known as the "mens rea" or the "guilty mind") - clearly there was no question as to whether Ruth had actually killed David Blakely and by her famous answer to the question as to her intention when she fired the shots, there could be no question as to her intent. If it had been possible to show that she had not intended to kill him, the correct verdict would have been guilty of manslaughter.
Mr. Justice Havers had no alternative but to sentence her to death. The black cap was placed on his head and she was asked if she wished to say anything – she remained silent and stood impassive as he then sentenced her to be taken to the place where she had last been confined and from there to a place of execution where she would suffer death by hanging. To which she replied, "Thank you".
Unlike many people who have just heard their death sentence, Ruth did not faint or become hysterical but rather turned on her heel, smiled to her friends in the public gallery and walked calmly down the stairs at the back of the dock. She was taken back to Holloway in a prison van and placed in the Condemned Suite where she was guarded round the clock by shifts of two female warders.  It has been stated by Nigel Havers (the actor and grandson of Mr. Justice Havers) that as trial judge, his grandfather had recommended a reprieve for Ruth in his post trial report to the Home Office but, unusually this recommendation was rejected.
 
In the Condemned Suite at Holloway.
 
Like all condemned prisoners Ruth was permitted to have visitors and was visited by the Bishop of Stepney, Joost de Blank, in whose diocese the prison is situated, as well as her family and friends.
The High Sheriff of London provisionally set Wednesday, July the 13th for the execution pending an appeal. Ruth decided against this as there were absolutely no legal grounds for an appeal. The final decision on her fate therefore rested with the Home Secretary, Major Gwilym Lloyd George, later Lord Tenby. Despite very considerable public and press pressure, he decided against her. His decision was announced on the afternoon of Monday, the 11th and communicated to Ruth by the governor, Dr. Taylor. She was visited by her mother and her friend, Jacqueline Dyer, within an hour of hearing there would be no reprieve. Petitions containing several thousand signatures were sent to the Home Office requesting a reprieve. There was to be one final attempt to save Ruth. She had requested a meeting with Leon Simmons who had represented her at her earlier divorce, to discuss her will, and he and Victor Mishcon went to see her in the condemned cell at 11.15 a.m. on the Tuesday morning. Unbeknown to Ruth, they had been asked by her trial solicitor, John Bickford, to make one final attempt to find out from her where she got the gun. Victor Mishcon was surprised at the woman he saw in Holloway who had by now less than 21 hours to live. He recalled that she greeted him saying, “how kind of you to come. I wanted Mr. Simmons to know certain facts which I think may have some bearing on my will.” Mishcon asked her about the gun and she told him that, “I am now completely composed. I know that I am going to die, and I’m ready to do so. You wont hear anything from me that says I didn’t kill David. I did kill him. And whatever the circumstances you as a lawyer will appreciate that it’s a life for a life. Isn't that just?” Victor Mishcon was so struck by these words and her calm demeanour that he never forgot them. However, she did reveal some more details of the case against a promise from Mr. Mishcon that he would not try and use them to save her. She told him that she had been drinking with Desmond Cussens over the weekend and had told him that if she had a gun she would shoot David. He told her that he did indeed have a gun and took her and her son Anrde to show her how to use it. Andre was later to say that his mother couldn’t hit a tree when she fired the revolver. All this was taken down in writing and Ruth finally and grudgingly allowed it to be taken to the Home Office. But warder Griffin, who was present during the interview, told the Home Office that Mr. Mishcon omitted a statement by Ruth that she had asked Desmond for the gun.
The Permanent Secretary, Sir Frank Newsam, was out at the races that afternoon and her statement was left with another senior official. They had the police check this new story but it really didn’t make matters any better. All it actually did was to show even clearer evidence of planning and intent to murder on her part. Sir Frank Newsam later wrote - "This uncorroborated statement by the prisoner does not add anything material to the information before the Secretary of State when he decided not to interfere. The discrepancy between the officer's report and Mr. Mishcon's statement is interesting and illuminating."
 
Ruth had her last meeting with her parents and brother on the Tuesday afternoon and they left Holloway around 5.15 p.m. Her brother, Granville Neilson, told reporters that “she seemed absolutely calm and unafraid of what was going to happen to her.” The news of her new statement had made the evening papers and there was now even greater agitation for a reprieve. Ruth began a final letter to Leon Simmons that evening in which she said, “I did not defend myself. I say a life for a life.” She wrote a postscript to it the following morning telling him that she had not changed her mind at the last moment (about being hanged). She also wrote a moving letter to David’s mother.
 
It has been disclosed from Home Office files in the National Archives that as Ruth awaited her execution, she only once cried when an MP tried to persuade her into seeking clemency. Warder Griffin was once again present when Labour MP, George Rogers, tried to persuade Ruth to appeal for clemency and the warder claimed he had browbeaten her into agreeing. Dr. Charity Taylor, the then governor of Holloway, reported, "I have never seen Ruth Ellis so distressed, and the officers reported that for the first time she had cried. She told me she supposed it was too late to change her mind as he was going to the Home Secretary in the morning. "I did not ask her, but I formed the strong impression she did not wish Mr. Rogers to pursue the subject of a reprieve."  Mr. Rogers had taken up the case at the request of one of his constituents in North Kensington, Ruth’s friend, Jacqueline Dyer.
 
The Home Secretary noted  "Our law takes no account of the so-called crime passionel, and I am not prepared to differentiate between the sexes on the grounds that one sex is more susceptible to jealousy than the other. "In the present circumstance, the woman was as unfaithful to her lover as he was to her. "If a reprieve were to be granted in this case, I think that we should have seriously to consider whether capital punishment should be retained as a penalty."
 
The police view, expressed by Detective Chief Inspector Leslie Davies, was that it was entirely Ruth’s decision to kill David.
He wrote, "It is certain that her action was coldly premeditated because, without thought to her son to whom she is said to be very attached, she left him alone to come to Hampstead with her mind made up to commit this murder." He went on "On meeting Blakely and realising that his class was very much above her own, and finding he was sufficiently interested in her to live with her, it seems she was prepared to go to any lengths to keep him. Finding this impossible, she appears to have decided to wreak her vengeance on him."
Ruth's father, Arthur Neilson (he had changed his name from Hornby), wrote a brief, poignant letter to the Home Secretary, adding his voice to those demanding a reprieve. 
"I respectfully beg of you to use your great influence to spare my poor daughter's life. This terrible tragedy has been a terrible shock to me. I was injured in the Blitz of May 10th 1941. I received a blow on the head which paralysed me down the left side of my body and Sir you will understand my nerves have gone to pieces under the strain.
"My daughter I would have thought to be the last person to become involved in such a crime as a child she was shy and reserved and never gave me any cause for anxiety and later on she was a devoted mother to her two children. I blame the whole sequence of events to the fact of such an unhappy experience of three bad men, the details of which you will know.”
"I ask you as a distraught father to show her mercy.
Yours respectfully . . ."
 
Execution.
 
Death came quickly in those days, Prisoner 9656 Ellis spent just three weeks and two days in the condemned suite at Holloway.
There was much public sentiment at the time for a reprieve and thousands of people had signed petitions asking for clemency, including 35 members of London County Council who delivered their plea to the House of Commons the day before Ruth was to die. On the Tuesday evening, the eve of the hanging, the Governor at Holloway was forced to call for police reinforcements because of a crowd of more than 500, including the veteran anti capital punishment campaigner, Violet Van de Elst, who had gathered outside the prison's gates singing and chanting for Ruth for several hours. Some of them broke through the police cordon to bang on the prison gates, calling for Ruth to pray with them. 
Inside the usual preparations had been made.
Ruth had been weighed at 103 lbs., clothed, and a drop of 8’ 4” set. The gallows had been tested on the Tuesday afternoon using a sand bag of the same weight, which was left overnight on the rope to remove any stretch. Around 7.00 a.m. on the morning of execution, the trap was reset and the rope coiled up so as to leave the leather covered noose dangling at chest height above the trap. A cross had been placed on the far wall of the execution room at Ruth's request.
In her cell, Ruth wrote a letter to David's mother, Mrs. Cook, apologising for killing him and finished her letter to Leon Simmons. She was given canvas pants to wear which had been compulsory for female prisoners since the Edith Thompson debacle. She was also given a glass of brandy just before 9.00 a.m. by the prison doctor to steady her nerves. She was attended by the Rev. John Williams, the chaplain of Holloway.
At about 8.55 a.m., a telephone call was received at Holloway from a Miss or Mrs. Holmes purporting to be the private secretary to the Home Secretary, saying that a stay of execution was on its way. Dr. Taylor (the Governor) immediately telephoned the Home Office and discovered that the call was a hoax. Dr. Taylor consulted Mr. Gedge, the Under Sheriff of London, and they decided to proceed. This led to a delay to the execution of one minute. Thus a few seconds before 9.01 a.m., Albert Pierrepoint entered her cell, pinioned her hands behind her back with his special soft calf leather strap and led her the 15 feet to the gallows, accompanied by a male warder from Pentonville holding her elbows on either side. Pierrepoint recalled that Ruth said nothing at all during her execution. When she reached the trap, a white cotton hood was drawn over her head and the noose adjusted round her neck. His assistant, Royston Rickard, pinioned her legs with a leather strap and when all was ready, stepped back allowing Pierrepoint to remove the safety pin from the base of the lever and push it away from him to open the trap through which she now plummeted.
The whole process would have occupied no more than 12 or 15 seconds and her now still body was examined by the prison doctor before the execution room was locked up and she was left hanging for the regulation hour. The law required that a female governor or deputy governor be present at the execution of a woman. Thus Dr. Charity Taylor together with Ralph Penry Williams, the prison medical officer witnessed the hanging, and Dr. Penry Williams would have examined her body afterwards.
 
Around a thousand people, including women with prams, stood silently outside the prison that morning, some praying for her. At 918am, the execution notice was posted outside the gates and after that the crowd dispersed. 
Ruth's body was taken down at 10.00 a.m. and an autopsy performed by the famous pathologist, Dr. Keith Simpson, which showed that she had died virtually instantaneously. Unusually, the autopsy report was later published and Simpson noted the presence of brandy in her stomach. The official inquest report of her execution read as follows, "Thirteenth July 1955 at H. M. Prison, Holloway N7": Ruth Ellis, Female, 28 years, a Club Manageress of Egerton Gardens, Kensington, London - Cause of Death - "Injuries to the central nervous system consequent upon judicial hanging."
 
An inquest was held by Mr. J. Milner Helme, the then Coroner for the City of London, later on the Wednesday morning and Ruth’s brother made a formal identification of her body. A scarf had been put round her neck to hide the rope marks. Ruth’s body was buried within Holloway prison around lunchtime, in accordance with her sentence, but later disinterred and reburied in the churchyard of St Mary's Church in Amersham Buckinghamshire when Holloway was rebuilt in the 1970's. Her death was registered on the 14th of July 1955 (the day after the execution) on the basis of a Certificate issued by the Coroner in the Registration District of Islington, Sub-district of Tufnell as Entry Number 25 for the September Quarter 1955.
 
8th of February 2002.
 
At the behest of Muriel Jakubait, Ruth's sister, and Ruth’s daughter Georgie, who died soon afterwards, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) referred Ruth's case to the Court of Appeal.
Evidence was presented to the CCRC that Ruth was suffering from post-miscarriage depression at the time of the shooting. It was also suggested that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, although this condition had not been medically defined in 1955.
It is further claimed that her original defence team were negligent and that she was persuaded to commit the crime by Desmond Cussen, who was jealous of David. It is alleged that she was physically and sexually abused by her father and was beaten by her husband George Ellis.
 
The Appeal Hearing.
 
The appeal finally came before the Appeal Court in London on Tuesday, the 16th and Wednesday, the 17th of September 2003. The judges were Lord Justice Kay, Mr. Justice Silber and Mr. Justice Leveson. The Court was asked to overturn the murder conviction and substitute a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation and/or diminished responsibility. Michael Mansfield QC, appeared for the appellant and introduced evidence to show that Ruth was suffering from "battered woman syndrome" when she shot David. It should be noted that "battered woman syndrome" was only accepted as defence to homicide in 2000 and therefore could not apply retrospectively. Michael Mansfield claimed that she had been "disgracefully treated" by him and that this could have left her in an intensely emotional state.
He also claimed that Mr. Justice Havers and the prosecution and defence barristers involved in the case were "labouring under a misconception of the law." They believed that, to establish provocation, the defence had to prove the killing was not motivated by malice, but that what happened was in the "passion of the moment" without any intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.
Mr Mansfield argued that this was an incorrect view and that the correct construction of the law on provocation as it then stood was that there was an intent to kill, but that it arose out of a passionate loss of control and provocative conduct. He suggested that “cumulative provocation” incited her to shoot David and that this was not considered in the original trial.
 
Evidence was adduced to show that despite Ruth giving up her job and the flat that went with it and providing David with money, he regularly beat her up, at one point so badly that she went to hospital. Afterwards, he apologised with flowers and a card and she accepted him back again as she always did.
In January 1955, Ruth discovered that she was pregnant with David’s child. In her original testimony, read to the Appeal Court, Ruth described a fight in which “David got very, very violent. I don’t know whether that caused the miscarriage or not, but he did thump me in the stomach.”
David returned to Ruth on the Wednesday before she murdered him to profess his “undying love” for her and promised to marry her. On the Saturday night, it is claimed that Ruth sat in an empty house opposite and watched a party where David was cavorting with a nurse. A doctor at the original trial said: “The situation was now absolutely intolerable for her. She considered he was being unfaithful at that moment but she was convinced he would return and she wouldn’t be able to resist him.” This behaviour was the trigger, Mr Mansfield said, for manslaughter, not murder.
 
Further evidence came from a retired midwife now living in Australia, who gave a written statement to the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1999. Moreen Gleeson, then in her 20’s, saw Ruth in the street, allegedly on the night she shot David. She was "stressed and weeping." Apparently she told Ms. Gleeson: "It's my boyfriend. He's in there with another woman. He won't let me in!" Ruth was "quite distraught." To calm her, Ms. Gleeson suggested taking her home for a coffee. She said: "Ruth was crying again and said, as if surprised, "Oh! I've got a gun!"  She also said a bulky man with a "proprietary air" loomed up and stood "possessively" over Ruth. This was understood to be Desmond Cussen.  
(It is difficult to see how Ms. Gleeson’s statement helped the appellant’s case, as all it does is to provide further evidence of pre-meditation and intent to kill.)
 
Mr. David Perry appeared for the Crown at the appeal. He told the Court that at the time of her trial, there was no such defence as diminished responsibility, and the defence of provocation required evidence of a sudden loss of self control in immediate response to a provocative act.
In Ruth's case, although it is accepted that she had been violently ill-treated by her lover in the past, the only provocation on the day of the killing was his breaking off their affair by failing to contact her even though he had promised to do so. Even if that amounted to provocation, her response to it was wholly disproportionate he said.
 
The Verdict.
 
On Monday the 8th of December, Lord Justice Kay delivered the Appeal Court’s ruling dismissing the appeal as “without merit” and finding that Ruth had been properly convicted of murder at her original trial.
The Homicide Act of 1957 changed the law to allow a defence of diminished responsibility but the Appeal Court ruled that this defence was not available at the time of Ruth's trial. If the defence of provocation was to succeed, it had to be proved that Ruth had been subjected to violence immediately before the murder rather than in the recent past.
Lord Justice Kay said: "Under the law at the date of the trial, the judge was right to withdraw the defence of provocation from the jury and the appeal must fail.” “If her crime were committed today, we think it likely that there would have been an issue of diminished responsibility for the jury to decide. But we are in no position to judge what the jury's response to such an issue might be."
The Court was critical that the case had been referred to it at all, by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, (the body which examines possible miscarriages of justice) and stated that it could have dealt with 8 to 12 cases had it not had to consider this one.
Lord Justice Kay said, "We have to question whether this exercise of considering an appeal so long after the event, when Mrs. Ellis herself had consciously and deliberately chosen not to appeal at the time, is a sensible use of the limited resources of the court of appeal."
He added: "On any view, Mrs. Ellis had committed a serious criminal offence. This case is, therefore, quite different from a case like that of James Hanratty, where the issue was whether a wholly innocent person had been convicted of murder."
 
 

 
 
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