Hampshire Murders

Hampshire Murders

by Nicola Sly


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750951067
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 09/01/2009
Series: Sutton True Crime History Series
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Nicola Sly has a masters degree in forensic and legal psychology and currently teaches criminology to adult learners. She is the author of Bristol Murders and the coauthor of Cornish Murders and Somerset Murders.

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Hampshire Murders

By Nicola Sly

The History Press

Copyright © 2012 Nicola Sly
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-8381-8



Portsea, 1818

Thomas Huntingford and his wife Sarah had lodged with Louisa Jennings at Orange Street, Portsea for five years. Samuel Beatley had lodged there even longer and had known the Huntingford's for at least twenty years of their forty-year marriage. Like any married couple, Thomas and Sarah had their ups and downs, especially as both had a fondness for alcohol, but, by and large, they were affectionate with each other, their relationship being described by a neighbour as 'the tenderest imaginable'.

By 1818, Sarah was sixty-one years old. Even though Thomas was ten years older, it was Sarah who seemed to be most affected by approaching old age. Some years previously she had lost an eye, and she frequently complained of pains in her head and lapses in her memory, often setting out to do her shopping and forgetting what she wanted by the time she reached the shops. Yet no one who knew her thought her problems any more serious than a little absent-mindedness.

On 23 October 1818, landlady Louisa Jennings was invited to supper with the Huntingford's. She left them at about 9 p.m. and went to her bedroom. Soon afterwards she heard Thomas and Sarah going up the stairs to their bedroom, calling out 'Good night, neighbour' as they went. Soon the house was peaceful as all four occupants slept. Sadly, the peace didn't last for long.

At 3 a.m., Samuel Beatley was rudely awakened by the sound of somebody clumping noisily downstairs and leaving the house. Beatley went to his bedroom window to investigate and saw Sarah Huntingford pacing nervously backwards and forwards in the yard.

Beatley quickly dressed and went outside. Sarah was dressed only in her nightclothes and was shaking so much from a combination of fear and cold that she dropped the candle she was carrying. When Beatley asked her what the matter was, all Sarah could say was 'I am murdered and robbed'.

Beatley called out for Louisa Jennings, who came down with another candle. Sarah, meanwhile, was nervously wringing her hands and kept repeating, 'What shall I do? What shall I do?' over and over again. Thinking that Sarah had had a nightmare, Louisa led the distressed woman back upstairs to her bedroom, but, when the door was opened, they immediately spotted Thomas lying in bed, covered with blood. Sarah explained that two men had crept into the house and murdered her husband.

Louisa called downstairs for Samuel Beatley who, as soon as he looked round the bedroom door and saw Thomas, went off to seek help. Surgeon Thomas Seeds was summoned and, while awaiting his arrival, Beatley and two neighbours, Mr Baker and Mrs Turnbull, went up to the bedroom to see if anything could be done for poor Thomas. When the bedclothes were pulled back, it was evident that only one person – Thomas – had slept in the bed that night.

Thomas's pockets were searched, first by Mrs Turnbull, who found one penny and one halfpenny, then by Sarah, who managed to find a key and a small knife. She pointed out a large chest in the bedroom, the lid of which had been left open revealing a moneybox with a broken lid inside.

Since Sarah was obviously distressed, the neighbours took her out of the bedroom and sat downstairs with her. There she insisted on telling them what had happened, saying that two men dressed as chimney sweeps had murdered her husband.

Her neighbours urged her to be careful about what she said, reminding her that she would be put on oath soon enough. 'Why did you not raise the alarm?' asked Mrs Turnbull.

'Because they said they would knock my brains out,' responded Sarah.

By this time, the surgeon had arrived and was conducting an examination of Thomas Huntingford's body. The old man was covered with blood, which had soaked the bedclothes and pooled on the floor by the bed. Such was the quantity of blood that Seeds initially couldn't see any wounds on Thomas that might have accounted for it. The blood appeared to have flowed from Thomas's mouth, so Seeds assumed he had ruptured a blood vessel. It was only when Seeds returned to the house some hours later to arrange the coroner's inquest that he noticed the severe wounds to the old man's head and face.

There were five wounds on Thomas's forehead, four of which had corresponding skull fractures. Another wound on the old man's left temple was large enough for the surgeon to insert his finger into and Seeds considered that this wound alone was sufficient to have caused Thomas's death. The injuries appeared to have been made with a heavy, sharp implement such as a billhook or an axe.

While Seeds was examining her husband, Sarah was still pacing nervously downstairs, wringing her hands and talking constantly about what had happened. When Louisa Jennings told her that all the doors to the house had been locked, Sarah recalled that Thomas had gone out into the garden before he went to bed and she supposed that he had forgotten to lock the door behind him. She described the two men who had attacked Thomas as being so black in the face that they looked like 'chimney sweepers'. One was tall, one was small and they had come into her bedroom waving a tomahawk and demanding money. No property seemed to be missing from the couple's bedroom after the murder.

'Why didn't you call for help?' asked Louisa. Sarah insisted that the men had threatened that if she made a noise, they would murder her.

Louisa remarked that it was strange that she had heard nothing, given that she slept directly beneath the Huntingford's bedroom. 'They made no noise,' Sarah told her, recalling now that the men were not wearing shoes.

Louisa said that if Sarah had noticed that the intruders weren't wearing shoes, then she would surely have noticed their faces and would be able to describe them. Sarah repeated that the men had looked like chimney sweeps, and then told Louisa, 'Don't ask me any more questions. Don't bother me.'

By the following day, rumours were flying around the neighbourhood and Mrs Turnbull informed Sarah that people suspected her of murdering her husband. Sarah replied that she didn't care what people thought because she was innocent. However, the two policemen, PCs Way and Carter, who had arrived to conduct a search of the house and question Sarah, were not convinced.

They found several spots of blood on Sarah Huntingford's petticoat. 'It's not blood, it's dirt,' protested Sarah, adding 'even if it is blood, it must have lain on the bed.' When it was pointed out that there was also blood on one of her pockets, she again insisted, 'It cannot be blood,' after which she ripped the pocket off her dress and tried to conceal it behind a sofa. She was swiftly arrested before she could destroy any more evidence and taken to Portsmouth Prison.

When the inquest into the death of Thomas Huntingford was held during the following week, the coroner's jury returned a verdict of 'wilful murder against Sarah Huntingford' and she was committed for trial at the next Hampshire Assizes.

The trial took place on 5 March 1819. Samuel Beatley, Louisa Jennings and Mrs Turnbull all gave evidence, both on the apparently loving and affectionate relationship between Sarah and Thomas and on what had happened on the night of the murder. Several people testified to the fact that Sarah's clothes had been bloodstained and the gaoler at the prison stated that several bloodstained items had been taken from her when she was first detained. An iron billhook bearing spots of blood had been found in the coalhole at Orange Street and was later determined to be the murder weapon.

The only thing apparently missing from the evidence was a motive for the murder. It was known that, shortly before she apparently killed her husband, Sarah had pawned some items in order to buy drink. These included Thomas's best coat – was there an argument between them, which drove Sarah to kill? Only one living person knew the answer to that question and she was sticking firmly to her story of being attacked by two chimney sweeps, a story that nobody else believed.

The jury obviously didn't believe the mysterious intruders existed anywhere beyond Sarah's imagination, since, after only a short deliberation, they found her 'Guilty' of the wilful murder of her husband, Thomas Huntingford. The judge passed the death sentence, stipulating that she should be dragged on a hurdle to a place of execution, hung by the neck until dead and her body then delivered to surgeons for dissection.

The place of execution was Gallows Hill, which is possibly the place now known as Galley Hill, at Winchester. It took place on 8 March 1819, before a crowd of several thousand people. Such was the unruly conduct of the crowd at her execution that it was decided to hold all future hangings inside the gaol, well away from public gaze.



Winchester, 1825

On 5 July 1825, Mary Ann Massell, a servant from Vincent Street in Westminster, London, answered the front door to find a man carrying a small hand basket, which bore a label addressed to her employer, Mr Fricker. John Watkins, a porter from Hetchetts in Piccadilly, asked for 2s for delivering the package, which Mrs Massell paid him. She then carried the rush basket into the parlour and began to unpack its contents.

First she removed several sheets of paper from the top of the basket, which were interspersed with pages torn from a prayer book. As soon as she disturbed the papers, the basket began to give off the most terrible smell. Beneath the papers she found a layer of rose leaves, a small parcel of musk, and some other perfumes. Once these had been removed, all that remained in the basket was a bundle made from two cambric handkerchiefs that had been roughly stitched together on all four sides.

Curiously Mrs Massell unpicked a little of the stitching and saw that the contents of the cambric bag were further wrapped in what looked like an old apron. She pulled the apron aside then immediately drew back in horror. The cloth-wrapped parcel contained the dead body of a baby boy.

At that time, Mr Fricker, aged thirty-two, was unwell and confined to his bed, so Mary Ann went to Mrs Fricker to report her gruesome discovery. Naturally, Mrs Fricker was equally distraught and went straight to her husband, who was totally at a loss to explain why he had been sent such a parcel. It was decided to take the basket to a nearby surgeon, Mr Frederick Holt, of Holywell Street, Westminster.

Mr Holt was out, but when he returned home at about two o'clock in the afternoon, he agreed to examine the contents of the basket. He found that the dead child was a full-term newborn baby that had never even been washed. There were small bruises on either side of the child's neck, as if something had been tightly twisted around it and, beneath one ear, a small patch of skin was missing.

Mr Holt was unable to state conclusively whether or not the child had been alive at birth. However, his inclination was that it had, since the boy's lips were very florid. His opinion was that the child had been 'unfairly dealt with', although he was unable to say if this was wilful or simply negligent.

The police were called and began their investigations by examining the address label that had been attached to the basket. It had been sent to Hetchetts for delivery from the Bell and Crown Inn at Holborn and, when Officer John Weale visited the inn, he was told that the parcel had arrived on the mail coach from Southampton on Monday 4 July.

The parcel label was written in two different hands, one appearing female and the other male. According to the landlord of the Bell and Crown, the male handwriting was that of Mr Higgs at the Black Swan in Winchester.

An inquest was opened on 7 July at the Regent's Arms Tavern in Regent Street, before Mr Thomas Higgs, the coroner for the city of Westminster. The coroner and his jury heard evidence from Mr Holt, John Watkins, Mary Ann Massell and John Weale, who detailed his investigations into the matter thus far. It was agreed that Weale should be sent immediately to Winchester to continue his enquiries and the inquest was adjourned to allow him sufficient time to do so.

Meanwhile, the coroner was told that Mr Fricker had arranged for handbills to be printed, offering a reward of twenty guineas for 'the discovery of the perpetrators of the horrible deed.'

Weale set off for Winchester straight away, taking with him the basket, apron and cambric handkerchiefs. On his arrival, he began to question the retailers and makers of rush baskets in the area and quickly found Mr Harper, who recognised the basket as one that he had made and sold in his shop on 4 July. Unfortunately for Weale, Mr Harper could not recall to whom he had sold the basket.

The officer then made enquiries to try and establish if anyone in the parish had given birth to a baby in the last few days and was informed that a young woman named Jane Sturgess, who lived with her mother in a cottage adjoining Winchester Cathedral, had given birth to an illegitimate baby on 4 July. The child had been delivered by the surgeon, Mr Lyford, who was also described as an 'accoucheur' – someone who is employed to assist a woman in childbirth.

Weale located Mr Lyford, who told him that Miss Sturgess's baby had been a boy and, from the description that the officer was able to give him of the dead child received by Mr Fricker, he agreed that the two babies sounded very similar in appearance.

According to Mr Lyford, he had been engaged by Jane's mother to assist in her daughter's confinement and, having safely delivered the baby, he then left the house. However, Mrs Sturgess called him back two hours later, saying that her daughter was unwell. Lyford had returned and examined Jane, finding nothing much wrong with her. He had been told at the time that the infant had died and the news had surprised him, since, when he had left, the baby had seemed perfectly strong and healthy. He had seen the dead infant, but by then it was tightly swaddled and he was unable to determine its sex.

The police officer went to see Miss Sturgess and her mother. Arriving at the house, he found Jane Sturgess very poorly, but he was determined to question her regardless.

Jane Sturgess assured the police officer that she had given birth to a little girl. She then went on to say that she had died and that her brother had made a small box in which to bury her. She had then given her baby to Mr Heathcote, the gravedigger, for burial in the Cathedral graveyard.

Weale produced the rush basket, which Jane denied ever having seen before. However, when he produced the apron, Jane looked at it curiously, saying that she thought that it looked like the one that she had wrapped her child in, although she couldn't absolutely swear that it was.

From the Sturgess household, Weale went to see Mr Newbolt, a local magistrate, who agreed to take depositions from several local people. Once the depositions had been taken, Mr Newbolt also presided over the exhumation of the body of a baby, recently buried by Mr Heathcote, allegedly on Miss Sturgess's instructions. Weale returned to London, taking the body of the exhumed baby with him.

The depositions from Winchester were read out at the resumed inquest for the benefit of the coroner and his jury. The first was that of Mr Henry Lyford, surgeon and accoucheur, who stated that he had been present when the body of the baby had been exhumed from the churchyard of Winchester Cathedral. He was not prepared to swear an oath that the baby that had been interred was the body of the child that he had delivered of Miss Sturgess. The exhumed body was that of a baby girl and Lyford believed that Miss Sturgess's baby had been a boy.

Mrs Cooke of Winchester stated that she was present shortly after the birth of Jane's baby and believed that Jane's mother had said at the time that the baby was a girl. She had not looked too closely at the baby and could not say definitely if it was a boy or a girl, although she had witnessed Mrs Sturgess washing it and trying her best to revive it with brandy.

Louisa Sopp said that she had seen the child soon after it was born and was quite sure that it was a girl. Furthermore, she had heard Mrs Sturgess asking Lyford what sex the baby was as it was actually being born and that the doctor had replied that it was a little girl. Mrs Sturgess had immediately said to Jane, 'There – I told you it would be a girl.'

Mr Higgs, who had written the label on the basket, believed that the parcel had been handed to him by Edwards, the butcher's boy, but could not swear to it. Edwards strongly disputed this, maintaining that he knew nothing whatsoever about any basket.

It was then left to Weale to inform the coroner that, while in Winchester, he had visited the chemist's shop there and established that a man had purchased a large quantity of musk on the morning of Monday 4 July. The man had said that the musk was for a Mrs Barnard at Winchester but when Weale had spoken to the lady concerned, she denied having sent for any musk.


Excerpted from Hampshire Murders by Nicola Sly. Copyright © 2012 Nicola Sly. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Author's Note & Acknowledgements,
Also by the Author,
1. 'Why did you not raise the alarm?' Portsea, 1818,
2. 'I was in hopes it would have been born dead' Winchester, 1825,
3. 'Oh, John! John! What have you brought us to?' Portsmouth, 1829,
4. 'I am come to give myself up as a murderer' Portsea, 1847/1849,
5. 'A compound of hypocrisy and lust' Southampton, 1855,
6. 'I did it without a pang' Stirling Castle, Portsmouth Harbour, 1856,
7. 'It was a terrible dream' Fordingbridge, 1862,
8. 'Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot' Alton, 1867,
9. 'I did it. It was an accident' Aldershot, 1874,
10. 'I can prove there are some false witnesses here' Kings Worthy, 1886,
11. 'Shhh, don't talk, Joe. I've just killed a man' Grayshott, 1915,
12. 'Your babies won't worry you any more. You are a free woman' Portsea, 1918,
13. 'My young brother has dropped dead' Lower Wield, 1920,
14. 'Let's play cowboys and Indians' Aldershot, 1923,
15. 'I remember doing something, but cannot remember what' Basingstoke, 1924,
16. 'I will do it again for the money' Bordon, 1924,
17. They think they have got me for it, but I am not green!' Southampton, 1928,
18. 'Hooray, hooray, hooray' Blackdown, 1931,
19. 'Why didn't you bring her home?' Portsmouth, 1931,
20. 'Sometimes I do things, but if I did things, I do not know about it' Aldershot area, 1935,
21. 'It's the trapdoor for me now' Portsmouth, 1943,
22. 'All Hell's let loose' Kingsclere, 1944,
23. 'You will find the murder weapon up the chimney' Ash Vale, 1952,
24. 'Nothing to say' Gosport, 1955,
25. 'The knife goes in like butter. I thought you would have to push in hard' New Forest, 1956,
26. 'I think I know who did it' Basingstoke, 1964,
Bibliography & References,

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