Black Country Muse

Subtitle

Forums

Post Reply
Forum Home > The Ultimate Crime. > Staffordshire's Hanged Women.

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Hanged Women.



Nearly all the hangings I have recorded have been of men, and I have been asked if any women were also dealt with, in the same way. The short answer is yes. Mary Smith, a young woman who hailed from Bloxwich, and earned a crust toiling on the coal banks of the district, was one of them. Finding herself, at 24, pregnant, unmarried, living hand to mouth, and almost alone in the world, she took desperate measures. After giving birth, she simply abandoned the child to it's fate. She was soon found out, and, facing a very unsympathetic Judge at the Stafford Assizes, was condemned to death. She was duly hanged, on 19th March, 1834. Another young woman, at the same Assizes, was merely sentenced to 7 years transportation, for a similar offence. Such were the vagaries of the justice system.


Ann Stacy, otherwise known as Ann Wychery, was born in Eccleshall, Staffordshire about 1810, when the only way to earn money was on the land as an agricultural labourer. No schooling for her, like many others, she started work almost as soon as she could walk. At 22, she married William Wychery, like her, a labourer on the land. They had at least one child, Ann, although her age at death is not recorded. Whatever went wrong will never be known, but the child died in Dec 1837, she was accused, and then admitted, she had caused the death. Once again, there was no mercy shown at the Staffordshire quarter sessions, and sentenced to death, she was put on the gallows on 5th May, 1838. The Executioner in her case, was Samuel Haywood, the man appointed for the rural Counties of Leicestershire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire.


This last one, has always been hard to understand. Sarah Westwood, who had been born in 1800, in Lichfield, Staffordshire, was 43 when she committed the offence for which she paid the full price. Her husband, John Westwood, may well have been a drunken brute, who beat her, or her children, on a regular basis. Maybe she should have just beaten him to death with a blunt instrument. However, she didn't. She took some arsenic, and poisoned him with it. Not just once, she may have got the dose wrong the first time, but twice. He didn't survive the second dose. Now if there's one thing, that appalls most people. it's got to be sneakily poisoning someone. It certainly had that effect on the jury, and the Judge didn't bat an eyelid when he passed the death penalty on her. On the 13th January,1844, this woman, the mother of 8 children, was hanged by the neck until dead. Now I'm not suggesting that it was wrong to hang women, the Law at the time, was after all the law, but if mercy was shown to others, what went wrong with these three case's ?

--

A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 26, 2011 at 3:25 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Hanged Women, Rhoda Willis, Baby Farming.


Never very far from peoples minds, whenever we get a nasty murder, that involves children, is the cry for the re-introduction of the Death Penalty. I have had many enquiries regarding the subject, over the last two years, and, in my opinion, no matter how loud that cry becomes, its never going to happen, and for a variety of reasons. For a start, the State should never have the right to take away anyones life, its there to protect us all, not pick and choose who will, or will not be put to death. Not having a death penalty, is a treaty condition of the European Union, and more importantly, we are an equal opportunies society, and it would have to include Women as well. This leads to all kinds of arguments, as to what would constitute a death penalty offence for women. The cases I have outlined already, all committed possibly in the traumatic aftermath of childbirth, do not fit most people's idea of  a mandatory death sentence, nor indeed should they. I could select from many, which I am sure most folk, sitting on a Jury would have convicted, and thought the sentence to be appropriate. Instead, I will merely use this next one, which is one of the last hangings carried out for so called " Baby Farming ".


Rhoda Laselles, was born in Sunderland, in 1863, to a family which could afford to have her educated in a top London school. Returning home, she married a Marine Engineer, one Thomas Willis, who was then offered a post in Cardiff, South Wales. Their daughter was born in Grangetown, and Thomas was doing well, but alas, it didn't last long, for he sadly died. Rhoda managed for a time but soon required some assistance so she took up with a friend of her deceased husbands, also an engineer, E.S. Macpherson. They did not get married, but moved to a different part of Cardiff where she gave birth to two more children, both girls. Around 1905, the relationship began to be a bit strained, and while the two girls stayed with their father, Rhoda Willis, as she then was, went off to stay with her brother, in Birmingham. The situation she found herself in was obviously putting her under great stress, and she began drinking. On her return to Cardiff, she was involved in an accident with a cyclist, which resulted in a head injury, and hospital treatment. While in Hospital, she stole a medal, which resulted in a conviction for theft, and a months imprisonment. On release, she advertised her services for the adoption of children, ( for a fee ) and the first of two young ones arrived in early May, 1907. She had obviously listened to other inmates, about ways to earn a living when she was released.  It didn't go well and the two babies were returned by her shortly afterwards. Maybe she didn't have the courage, being a mother herself, to carry out the foul deed. On 4th June, she took charge of a baby, at Hengoed Station, on the Rhymney Valley Line,  ( fee £8 ) born the day before, and boarded a train back to her lodgings at Splot, in Cardiff. The child was smothered by Rhoda before the train arrived back home, and Rhoda hid the body in her room. Next day, and possibly suffering from shock at what she had done, she got roaring drunk and during the course of getting her into bed, her landlady found the childs body. She was of course arrested, but under the name of Leslie James, the name she had used in the advert, and also for her lodgings. She was tried for murder under the same name and after retiring for just 12 minutes, found guilty and sentenced to death. What, I ask, would be her sentence, if Capital Punishment were re-introduced to our statute books. Would it be fair say, to hang a man, and not a women for the same offence, or to hang a man for killing his wife, but not a woman for killing her husband. The argument runs, that its a matter of degree, but no it isn't, for murder is murder, no matter what fancy language you dress it up as. However much each one of us moans, about the current system of punishment, its at least fair to both sexes. Which is more than can be said of the past, where stealing a sheep or a pair of shoes was a Capital offence, no matter what the sex of the criminal was. Who can say, with any degree of certainty, what was in Rhodas mind when she smothered that child. Her need for money was obvious, and she still retained some self control when it came to killing the first two, so did that blow on the head affect her judgement ? There's no doubt, about the motives of two other women, Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters, who were hanged 4 years earlier, pure greed, the murders carried out by administering lethal Chlorodine in a feeding bottle, which is possibly the case she heard about while in prison. Going through  the list of hanged women, its fairly easy, in hindsight, to say which ones deserved to die, or should non of them have suffered that awful fate, simply because they were women. We are back to that question again, should this country bring back capital punishment ?

--

A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

December 22, 2012 at 4:18 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Women hanged at Stafford, Exectioners. Ann Wycherly, 1838.



The woman mentioned in the second section of the post above, Ann Stacey is better known of course as Ann Wycherly. She had a rather sad history, not unusual for the time, nor, I would add, out of the ordinary even today. Born in 1809, so the record says, and when old enough, went into domestic service. She had, you could say, the rotten luck of meeting a young man who on the surface seemed nice enough, and in 1832, they got married. The young mans name was William Wycherly, born in High Offlay, Staffordshire, in 1802, and what Ann didn't know, was that he had been in trouble with the Law. Thats putting it bit mildly really, for he been up in court in 1823, 1826, 1829, 1830, ( 12 months plus a whipping ) and 1831,  ( just  the12 months this time ) for larceny. A child was born about November 1833, and from this date, all trace of her beloved husband seems to have vanished. He did have a number of alias's to hide behind, so he could have ben transported under this name, or he could simply have just died. It must have been hard for her, because she was convicted and given a month in gaol in 1836, for theft. At some stage, she met another reprobate, Charles Gilbert, who, it seems, already had a family, but fancied himself as something of a charmer. It must have worked, for Ann gave birth to his child in late October, 1837, in the Workhouse at Market Drayton, Shropshire. In December, she left the workhouse, with both the children, and headed back towards Staffordshire, and the amorous, but already married Gilbert. She called at a cottage on the way, but was only seen with the new born, of the elder child, there was no sign. Some days later, a farmworker spotted an object in his employers pond, and when they dragged it out, it was in fact, Ann Wycherly, aged just 4. Surprisingly for the time, it didn't take long to realise whose child it was, and the mother was arrested while working as a servant at Baldwins Gate, near Newcastle-under-Lyme. She blamed Charles Gilbert for the death, saying he didn't want the child, and she should get rid of it, which she did. At her trial, the Judge was having non of it, and firmly told the Jury that even if she had been told to get rid of the youngster, the act of murder rested entirely with her. The Jury did not even retire, but came up with a guilty verdict inside 12 minutes. She was hanged on the 5th  May 1838, a mother who, apparently, had no maternal instincts of protecting her own flesh and blood.


Foot note.

Unlike some other Counties, Staffordshire did not have a permanant man to call on when an execution was pending. Sometimes the job fell to a " Turnkey ",  ( an early term for a Prison Officer ) or the Prison Governor may have offered the job to an inmate, on a promise of being released early, as in the case of George Smith, in 1840. In the Ann Wycherly case, the under Sheriff, maybe a bit bit nervous because it was a woman, engaged a man who had already hanged a woman in Nottingham, and whom he knew wouldn't botch the job. Samuel Haywood, an Agricultural labourer from Appleby Magna, born around 1778, in Leicestershire, had been appointed as executioner for both his own county, and also those of Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire. He also worked in other areas, including Warwickshire. Although not as well known as some of the others, Ann Wycherly was just one among his estimated 44 hangings, ( possible another 14 as well ) in a career that lasted from 1820 to 1848. Just for the record, he had been convicted in 1817, for both Poaching, and being caught with all the neccesary equipment. He had started off by volunteering to flog and whip his fellow inmates for a reduced prison term. Not that any of this bothered Ann Wycherly, she wasn't in a position to ask for a CRB check.



--

A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

December 24, 2012 at 3:42 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

It must have seemed like a dashing and daring job, driving a Mail Coach, which is what may attracted 26 year old Ann Statham, in 1815. She lived on the route of the Coach, in a little village called Wychnor, ( Winchnor ) Staffordshire, between Lichfield and Burton on Trent, the Coach being the Birminghan to Derby Mail. The driver was Thomas Webster, who lived in Birmingham, and soon got to know Ann Statham, as the journey went right past her front door. So well did they get on, that she went to live with Thomas, in Birmingham, about August, 1815, and it wasn't long before she was expecting the patter of tiny feet. Unlike many men of the time, Thomas was quite happy about this, although they didn't seem in any hurry to tie the knot. By the time July 1816 rolled around, Ann was heavily pregnant and moved to Derby, to have the child. She didn't stay there long, for the next month, she was back in Wychnor. She then paid a visit to one John Mason, one of Burton on Trents Constables, why, is anyones guess. He noted that she had a child with her, but never saw the face. Escorting her back on Saturday 26th July, and stopping off at the Three Tuns Public House, the child was missing and when asked, she told him, through a few tears, that the child, supposedly named William had suddenly died. Being a gentleman, Mason offered her the money to pay for the funeral, but she declined his kind gesture. On Tuesday 29th, she was seen by a boatman, John Deakin, walking along the Trent and Mersey Canal. Some time later, Ann appeared again at the Three Tuns, and told the landlords wife, Mrs Thompson, that while walking, she had suffered a fit, and dropped the child into the Canal. A search was begun, but it wasn't until the early hours of Sunday, that the shawl wrapped bundle was found by another boatman, Thomas Wooton. He conveyed the pathetic little mite to the storeroom of the Three Tuns, and Constable John Mason was sent for. Seeing no marks of violence, he summoned another Constable, Charles Nicholls, and they went in search of Ann. Failing to satisfy the questions asked, she was arrested and put before the Coroner, Mr Enoch Hand, whose jury recorded it as wilful murder. She was next sent to the Magistrates Court in Burton, and commited to prison. She was sent to await trial at Stafford Assizies, a long wait as it turned ot, for the Lent Session was a full 9 months away, in March 1817.


Her trial began on 19th March, before Mr Justice Park, and after hearing from all the witnesses, including the boatman John Deakin, who stated that the canal banks were very wet and muddy at the time, it didn't last very long, Before the day was out, Ann Statham had been found guilty, and sentenced to death, the punishment to be carried out just two days later, on 21st March,1817. It would seem, that Ann may have been suffering from Post Natal Depression, but as her "husband," Thomas Webster, had indicated he was perfectly happy with the arrangement they had, this was discounted by the Judge and the Jury.


On the day, she was the only one of seventeen condemed people from the Lent Sessions to be hanged. Set for 11.00am, the crowd had been building up in the square in front of the Gaol, since well before dawn. The Gallows had been erected, as they had before, on the flat roof of the Lodge over the gate. This time though, it wouldn't all go smoothly. As she knelt in prayer with the Chaplain, the whole lot collapsed, sending them, the turnkeys and the surprised Executioner, sprawling onto the flat roof. It was soon fixed, although by now, Ann was showing severe signs of distress, and was "assisted " back up, by the two turnkeys. The name of the executioner hasn't been recorded, but in this case, because it was woman, it is unlikey that a prison inmate, or turnkey, was given the job. This required the experience of someone who already had a record for being steady under pressure. ( Given what happened, it would have needed a steady hand) Looking down the list, it may have been Samuel Burrows, he was known to have taken jobs at both Hereford Gaol, and Shrewsbury Gaol, and he had experience of hanging both men and women. She was the first woman to be hanged on the Lodge roof, and the last as it turned out, for the Gaol purchased one of the New fangled drop gallows shortly afterwards and from then on, they were all conducted at ground level, in front of the gatehouse.

--

A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 4, 2013 at 11:54 AM Flag Quote & Reply

You must login to post.