List of highlighted files, with notes by Sara Wajid

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Catalogue ref. Date Description
Royal Family
HO 144/19885 1934-35 Mary Brownhill killed her adult housebound son so she could get to hospital for an urgent operation:

 

 

62-year-old Brownhill thought she couldn't have the life-saving kidney operation while her 30-year-old 'imbecile' son, Denis, was alive as there was no one else to care for him. She lived with her husband and unmarried sister

 

The case attracted much media coverage; Brownhill was nicknamed "Mercy murderess" by one paper. The newspapers framed this as a case of merciful euthanasia because the son couldn't talk and was totally helpless to care for himself

 

Brownhill gassed her son after feeding him an overdose of aspirin. She confessed immediately

 

Her "class of life" is categorised as "Good. Middle Class."

 

The file includes:

 

A letter from the managing editor of London United Press offering to pay her solicitor's fees if the solicitor would take responsibility for approving articles

 

A letter from a member of the public noting that if she had simply asked the local authority for help they would have provided some support

 

A photograph of the crime scene with the victim and mugshots of Mary Brownhill

HO 144/16260 1930-32 CRIMINAL CASES: FEELY, Lily.

Convicted at Kingston-on-Thames on 2 July 1930 for murder and sentenced to death (commuted)

 

Lily Feely was convicted of murdering her 2-month-old illegitimate baby:

 

Feely came to England from Ireland and got involved with Frederick John Errington, a married 42-year-old bus driver, who beat her when she fell pregnant

 

When he ended the relationship, Feely strangled their baby behind a hedge in Croydon and gave herself up at the nearest police station. Feely was found guilty and given the death penalty but was subsequently pardoned

 

The file includes intimate love letters from Errington to Feely

 

The medical officer from Holloway Prison said Feely had the "intelligence of an 11 year old girl"

HO 144/20214 1936 CRIMINAL CASES: HARDING, Ellen.

Convicted at Lewes on 11 March 1936 for murder and sentenced to death (conviction quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal)

 

Ellen Harding (36) was convicted of drowning her 5-month-old son in a canal and was given the death sentence. At the last moment new evidence overturned the finding and she was set free:

 

It was the first time in the history of the appeal court that a woman's appeal against the death sentence had been allowed

 

In a News of the World article on 5 April 1936, Harding said: "I can't believe it's true. It has been one long nightmare. I have been under restraint since Christmas Eve. Now I can do as I like and that makes even buying a box of matches a perfect joy. When I learned that my conviction had been quashed the strain was too much for me. I broke down and cried like a child."

 

Evidence from her landlady suggested that it was Mr Harding who wanted rid of the baby and that the family were afraid of him. The landlady saw him close the lid of the trunk the baby slept in as if to suffocate him but he said he was only trying to drown out the noise of crying

HO 144/4414 1915-25 CRIMINAL CASES: NEALE, Margaret.

Convicted at Maidstone on 15 June 1915 for murder and sentenced to death (commuted)

Margaret Neale (36) killed her illegitimate child, decapitated it and hid the head under her bed. She confessed as soon as the head was discovered.

Two of her children had already been taken into care; notes on the file imply strongly that she was an alcoholic.

HO 144/10346 1918-29 CRIMINAL CASES: NEATH, Annie.

Convicted at Leeds on 5 March 1921 for murder and sentenced to death (commuted)

 

Ann Neath (28), a domestic servant, stabbed her baby to death with scissors after secretly giving birth in her room. She hid the corpse under the bed:

 

Neath gave birth in her room and explained the blood to her employer by saying she'd simply been unwell. Her employer accepted this although blood was all over the room and there was a chamberpot full of blood under her bed

 

When the doctor sent Neath to an infirmary days later, her employer bundled up her belongings and found a baby boy corpse stabbed 5 times in a basket under the bed. Neath had warned her: "You will find my basket under the bed. You will find something or things in it - just put my other things on the top."

 

Neath had concealed the entire pregnancy somehow

PCOM 8/360 1921-29 This file includes a mugshot of Ann Neath.
HO 145/23557 1920-49 CRIMINAL CASES: O'GARA, Mary.

 

Mary O' Gara served 4 years for drowning her 8 month old illegitimate child:

A 22 year-old single mother, Mary O'Gara was turned away from a hospital where she sought refuge and was overheard muttering: 'I'll show them what I'll do with the child'. She confessed to a policeman almost immediately.

HO 144/17540 1918 CRIMINAL CASES: PROCTOR, Edith Rose.

Convicted at Leeds on 11 March 1918 for murder and sentenced to death (commuted)

 

Edith Proctor, 39, had starved and abused her step-daughter Nelly to death over years in full view of family and neighbours who failed to intervene:

 

Between Proctor and her partner Walter Gibbins there were 15 children, mainly from both their previous relationships

 

The file includes chilling testimonials from neighbours and other children about the treatment of Nelly, who was kept separate from other children in a locked bedroom. One sibling testified that she only saw Nelly once in a 6-week period and she was skeletal and "very very white". Another child said Proctor was delusional and thought Nelly was too fat. A neighbour described her as looking "deathlified"

 

Nelly's mattress was covered in excreta and urine; her body was 18lbs at death - the normal weight of a child her age was 50lbs; her hair was matted with nits

 

When Nelly died on New Year's Eve, Gibbins buried her body in the brickyard where he worked and later killed himself when he was accused of her murder

 

The file includes shocking photograph of Nelly's emaciated corpse, reminiscent of a concentration camp victim

PCOM 8/347 1918-33 PROCTOR, Edith Rose

at Leeds on 18 Mar 1918 (commuted)

 

Proctor was sentenced to death but this was commuted to life as she was pregnant at the time

 

 It is possible that another child who died shortly after the couple first moved in together died of malnutrition. Suggestion that it was Proctor's fault

 

Notes suggest Proctor was getting regularly beaten in prison - lots of accidental but serious injuries noted on her medical cards

 

Incredibly there's a letter in 1924 from her previous husband asking for her release as her family would like her home again

 

In 1929 the prison governor reports that Proctor is remorseful and is a "really kind hearted and amiable person" and that no useful purpose was being served by keeping her in prison

 

There are mugshots of Proctor in the front of the file

HO 144/21405 1933-40 CRIMINAL CASES: RHODES, Elizabeth Agnes.

Convicted at Leeds on 25 July 1933 for murder and sentenced to death (commuted)

 

Elizabeth Agnes Rhodes (41) was found guilty of murdering her abusive husband with hammer and trying to burn the corpse. As a strict Roman Catholic she felt unable to divorce him:

 

On arrest she said: "I did not mean to kill him. My husband always threatened to take my life. He said he would drag me by the head down the road"

 

Neighbours of the remote farm in Halifax had seen the husband throw her down, drag her by the hair, kick and strike her. She'd often been seen with black eyes after being beaten by him. Their only child had died in infancy many years earlier

 

After the murder she tried to commit suicide by drinking poison, suffocating herself and finally by trying to drown herself. In court she described her last attempt: "I floated all the time. I turned over once and got my mouth full of water. I thought I was going to sink. I could not kill myself. I must have 9 lives like a cat." She confessed immediately

 

They fought because she refused him sex and she gave him a massive whack with the hammer to his head, which killed him instantly

 

One witness who had been a neighbour for 6 years previously remembered that "she was rather peculiar when she had her periods. At these times she seemed lost as if she did not know what she was doing."

 

A letter from Bishop Fordham at the Vicarage in Halifax 1933 said: "The woman is approaching the 'change of life', which is particularly trying, to women even in happy surroundings. She had (so it has been reported to me also) her period at the time when the crime was committed. She had similar periods while in Strangeways gaol and in each case she was not normal."

 

In trying to decide whether to commute sentence there is paperwork comparing a precedent case of a woman - also a Roman Catholic - who wouldn't leave an incredibly violent man and then killed him; she had served only 18 months. The prison governor had commented: "I should recommend that if her release is considered, she is returned to Ireland as she is distinctly Irish in temperament."

PCOM 9/775 1933-40 RHODES Elizabeth Agnes:

Convicted at Leeds 25 July 1933 of murder and sentenced to death (commuted)

 

Throughout the file - which includes mugshots of Rhodes - there is much reference to what a good housewife she was and her passion for cleaning.

HO 144/21194 1924-29 CRIMINAL CASES: SADLER, Dora Martha Sparling.

Convicted at CCC on 8 January 1924 for murder and sentenced to death (commuted).

 

Dora Sadler (37), a nanny, killed the two daughters of her wealthy employers by gassing them in their bedroom. She killed Sonia Katzman (3) after being sacked because she didn't want to leave her in the care of her Jewish mother - Sadler was anti-semitic. She killed the baby because "she didn't want to leave her in the hall" while gassing Sonia.

 

No attempt to hide her crime or escape punishment

 

Record of Sadler making anti-Jewish comments in front of employers. She once bumped into a friend of the Katzmans in the street who remarked on the children's strong familial resemblance, to which Sadler replied "If they looked like their parents I'd kill them because they looked like Jews"

 

Sadler was sentenced to death but this was commuted to life imprisonment. She was released to her family in the 1930s

 

This file offers an interesting insight into race and class tensions in 1920s' society through intimate domestic details. These upper middle-class parents were out at dinner till 1am leaving their children in the charge of the angry anti-semitic nanny who had just been sacked

 

Sadler was infatuated with the little girl Sonia. A fight started when Sadler threatened to smack Mrs Katzman if she smacked Sonia because Sonia preferred to sit with her nanny than with her mother

 

The file includes an artist's sketch of Sadler from a newspaper clipping near the top of the file

PCOM 8/389 1924-38 SADLER, Dora Martha Sparling

at C.C.C. on 8 Jan 1924 (commuted)

The file includes mugshots of Dora Sadler.

HO 144/20185 1936 CRIMINAL CASES: WADDINGHAM, Dorothea Nancy.

Convicted at Nottingham on 27 February 1936 for murder and sentenced to death

 

Dorothea Waddingham was hanged for murdering an 87-year-old widow and her disabled daughter in a nursing home:

 

Wadingham convinced the widow, Mrs Baguley, to change her will, leaving everything to her

 

Wadingham was a mother of five and was breast-feeding her 3-month-old baby in prison. 10,000 people congregated outside the gaol on the execution day chanting: "Stop this mother murder!"

 

To escape the death sentence, Wadingham claimed she was pregnant but a medical examination found she was lying. She confessed to the double murder shortly before the hanging

 

The fiancé of Ada Baguley (the younger victim) killed himself following her death