“The Horrible Discovery at Gloucester”: New Street, 1883

IPN16June1883

“The Horrible Discovery at Gloucester”, on the front page of the Illustrated Police News, 16 June 1883. (British Newspaper Archive. Image copyright The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.)

 

 

Charles and Adelaide Reece lived at number 66, New Street, Gloucester. Charles was a foreman at a timber yard, while Adelaide worked as a midwife and nurse. The couple had no children. Adelaide was an experienced midwife who had delivered the children of many of her neighbours.

On 28 May 1883, Adelaide attended Mrs Hancock, who also lived in New Street, when she went into labour. Mrs Hancock had lost a baby in child-birth before, and the midwife was given strict instructions to send for a doctor if there were any problems. The labour was a difficult one and the mother lost consciousness before the baby was delivered. When Mrs Hancock woke up, she asked whether the child was a girl or a boy, and Adelaide replied that it was a boy, but it was dead, and she believed it had been born prematurely.

On the morning after attending Mrs Hancock, Adelaide told several neighbours that she she had called a doctor to help with the delivery, but the baby had been born very prematurely and had died. She said that the doctor had told her to put the body, which was far from full-grown, “down the closet”.

About a week later, one of the neighbours with whom Adelaide Reece had discussed Mrs Hancock’s labour spoke to the doctor who was said to have attended, and he emphatically denied having been summoned to New Street on the night in question. This neighbour confronted the midwife, who became very agitated and insisted that she had done nothing wrong.

The neighbour decided to inform the police about Adelaide’s inconsistent story. When Mr and Mrs Hancock were interviewed, they stated that the body of the infant had remained in the house overnight, then Mrs Reece had taken it away. On her return, she said that she had taken the body to the cemetery, and had paid 2 shillings and 6 pence for its burial. This expense had subsequently been added to her fee for acting as midwife and nurse.

When the police went to number 66, New Street to talk to Adelaide Reece, they found that she was missing. The next day they realised that she had been hiding at a neighbour’s house, but when they went round there, she fled out of the back door and was half way over a fence at the bottom of the garden when Police Constable Howse caught up with her.

PC Howse asked her what had happened to the Hancock infant, and she said that she had buried him in her back garden. She took the constable to her house and pointed out the spot where she had buried him. Howse started to dig and about two feet down, he found the body of a male infant, covered with charcoal and quicklime. There was a noticeably unpleasant smell in the garden, so when Mrs Reece had been taken to the police station, PC Howse returned to New Street and dug over the whole plot. Another seven bodies of infants were found, all in various stages of decomposition.

At an inquest into the death of the Hancock child, it was revealed that a post mortem examination had found that he had been alive and at full term when he was born. There were no marks of violence on the body, but he had died of loss of blood, which could have been caused by violence or mistreatment during the birth. Adelaide Reece was arrested on suspicion of murder. Her husband was arrested too, but the charge against him was later dropped, due to lack of evidence.

Adelaide Reece stood trial for murder at the Gloucester Assizes in August 1883. It had been decided that she would only be charged with the murder of the Hancock child. She pleaded not guilty to the charge. The case created a great sensation with many members of the public trying to get into the viewing gallery at Shire Hall, but no women were allowed in as spectators. The trial was a long and complicated one, with many witnesses called to give evidence. Several of the witnesses, including Mr Hancock, the father of the dead child, stated that Adelaide Reece was a kind and humane woman.

The doctor who had carried out the post mortem on the child, Mr AP Carter, repeated the evidence he had given at the inquest that the infant had died of a haemorrhage, adding that he believed the loss of blood was due to neglect at birth and that the body had been treated in such a way that haemorrhage was almost inevitable. However, when he was cross-examined, he agreed that the treatment of the body might have been accidental, especially in a case where the mother was in a dangerous state and the midwife had lost presence of mind and allowed the child to bleed to death from neglect.

The judge now interposed and said it was time for the prosecution counsel to decide whether it was possible to continue with the charge of murder, or even of manslaughter. The only evidence of death, he said, was through haemorrhage, and there appeared to be no motive for Mrs Reece to have deliberately killed the child or allowed it to die. The prosecution counsel then agreed to drop the murder charge, and a much less serious charge of concealing the birth of a child was substituted.

It was the law according to the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 that the birth of any child, whether it was still-born or died shortly after being born, must be reported to the appropriate authorities. Any person who secretly disposed of the body of a child born in such circumstances, thereby concealing its birth, was guilty of a misdemeanour which could be punished with a maximum sentence of two years in prison. The defence counsel suggested that as there was only a low fence between a field and the garden of number 66, New Street, someone else might have been responsible for burying the bodies of the Hancock child and the others, but inevitably, Adelaide Reece was found guilty of concealing a birth.

Before sentencing her, the judge addressed the prisoner:

“The motives that induced you to conceal the birth of that child and to bury it as you did in your garden are uncertain. That there was some motive, and some very improper motive, no-one can doubt. It is impossible to shut one’s eyes, moreover, to the fact that the bodies of seven other children were found in that garden. Not a word of explanation has been offered by you at any time on that subject. Suggestions have been made, very properly enough, by the counsel in defending you, as to how those bodies may have come there, but as far as you yourself are concerned, from your lips no account has been given as to the way in which those bodies got there. I do not hesitate to say that the case is full of suspicion of a far graver offence than the one of which you have been found guilty by the jury. Several witnesses have spoken as to your character. I can only say that I take very little notice of and attach very little weight to that. It is abundantly clear that you are a very bad woman, and I shall mark my sense of the crime of which you have been convicted by sentencing you to be kept in prison with hard labour for eighteen calendar months.”

Adelaide Reece gave no explanation as to why those small bodies were found in her garden, but it seems very likely that she had buried the Hancock infant herself, then pocketed the money which she had been given to pay for his burial at the cemetery. No doubt she had done this seven times previously, without detection. Her mistake in this case was that she lied about fetching a doctor to help with Mrs Hancock’s labour, and was found out.

Despite the opinion of the judge that Adelaide was a very bad woman, her neighbours in New Street do not appear to have agreed with him. She went back to live with Charles at number 66, New Street after she came out of prison, and she even continued to get work as a midwife. In 1894, she had to give evidence at an inquest on a new-born infant she had delivered. She had arranged for the disposal of the body, and there was some question as to whether she had reported the birth and death correctly, but she was cleared of any suspicion of wrong-doing. Adelaide died on 5 March 1902, aged 61, at her home, in New Street.

 

Sources:

Illustrated Police News, 16 June 1883.

The Citizen, 4 June, 22 June, 8 Aug, 9 Aug 1883, 8 March 1902.

Census returns for New Street, Gloucester: 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901.

© Jill Evans 2016

 

 

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Run to the Hills (with Police in Hot Pursuit): Gloucester, 1913

Birdliphill

Birdlip Hill. (Copyright of Andy Dolman and licensed for reuse Under Creative Commons Licence, via http://www.geograph.org.uk)

On Saturday, 13 September 1913, the Gloucester Journal reported on an exciting chase following a prisoner’s escape from custody at Gloucester Police Station. Alfred Llewellyn had been arrested on the previous Wednesday, on suspicion of obtaining money by false pretences. He was held in police cells overnight, then the following morning was allowed out into the corridor to exercise. His guard left him alone for a brief time and when he returned, found that his prisoner was missing. Llewellyn had apparently got out through a door with a faulty lock onto the parade ground, then had gone through a shed on to Severn Road and into the docks.

A search for the escaped prisoner ensued and his description was circulated. Somebody saw him without his coat or hat, and later he was sighted wearing a new cap and a dungaree jacket, of the type worn by sailors. Llewellyn was traced through Tredworth Road along by the cemetery, back over the Horton Road Railway to Wotton Hill, but then the trail ran cold. It later transpired that this was because he had boarded a tramcar, alighting at the Hucclecote terminus. From there he proceeded through Brockworth, then made his way up Birdlip Hill.

The police had begun the pursuit on their bicycles, but had to discard them once the prisoner moved into open countryside, avoiding roads or tracks. However, a Gloucester man was assisting in the hunt by searching for the missing man on his motorbike. He encountered Llewellyn at the top of Birdlip Hill. A tussle ensued, from which the escapee emerged triumphant, and he made off once again.

A large force of police by now had arrived in the vicinity of Birdlip, accompanied by many members of the public, who were no doubt encouraged by the offer of a one pound reward for capturing the prisoner. Llewellyn was followed through some wooded land down to the bottom of Birdlip Hill. From there, he made his way across country towards Crickley Hill and then to Shurdington Hill, where he walked into a farmyard. The farmer recognised the prisoner from his description, but did not challenge him. Instead, he invited him to join him in a game of draughts, while a message was sent to nearby Bentham, and a policeman made his way to the farm. When PC Bull arrived, he found that Llewellyn had gone, having become suspicious. Bull searched the vicinity and found his quarry in one of the farm’s fields. He arrested Llewellyn, who at 11.30pm was escorted back to Gloucester.

The Gloucester Journal reported that a story had come out that while Llewellyn was passing through Brockworth, there had been a collision between two motor vehicles outside the Cross Hands Inn. He had helped to take one of the cars to the village blacksmith to be repaired, before going into the inn. While he was there, a police constable came in to ask if anyone had seen the missing man, giving a description of him. Nobody in the bar could remember seeing the man, but after the policeman had left, it was noticed that Llewellyn did fit the description, so he quickly left.

It was stated that the money Llewellyn used to buy his new cap and coat (and presumably his tram ticket) had been concealed under a bandage he had round a cut on his arm. It was also rumoured that shortly after his escape, the prisoner had gone into a public house on Bristol Road, where a police constable challenged him as answering the description of the wanted man. Llewellyn said that he lived just across the road and suggested the policeman go over there and ask, if he was suspicious. The constable did so and of course found that the story was false, but on his return to the pub, the suspect was gone.

Alfred Llewellyn, of no fixed abode, but from the Cardiff area, appeared at Gloucester City Police Court on the morning after his recapture. He was charged with obtaining five pounds by false pretences on September 10th, from George Long of the Robinhood Inn, Bristol Road. There was a second charge of obtaining ten shillings by false pretences from George MacIntyre Wright of the White Swan Inn. In the first case, Llewellyn had spun a yarn about knowing Long’s recently deceased father, and leaving an envelope supposedly containing his engineering certificates, worth £50, he said, as security for borrowing five pounds. The landlord became suspicious after Llewellyn left, and finding he had been duped, contacted the police. Llewellyn had been arrested at the GWR Station, where he had boarded a train bound for Cheltenham.  He was committed for trial at the next Assizes, but caused much amusement in court by saying that he might not appear.

The Autumn Assizes took place at the end of October 1913. Alfred Llewellyn had not managed to escape during his wait in gaol, and at his trial he pleaded guilty to the two charges against him. Deputy Chief Constable Harrison told the court that having made inquiries about the prisoner, who was 28 years old and described as an engineer, he had found that he was “a worthless man”. The judge said that there was a list of twelve previous offences against him, the last at Cardiff in April 1911. He had been sentenced to three years’ penal servitude on that occasion, and had only just been released from prison on parole when he had committed the offences in Gloucester. Llewellyn was sentenced to nine months in gaol, with hard labour. No mention was made of his escape from custody in September.

Llewellyn’s latest stint in prison did not bring his criminal career to an end. The Birmingham Mail of 9 April 1915 reported that at the Carmarthen Quarter Sessions, one Alfred Llewellyn, a native of Cardiff, had appeared in a bogus naval uniform, and was sentenced to 18 months’ penal servitude with hard labour for obtaining goods and money by false pretences at Llanelli. He had headed the Sunday Church Parade of the 2nd Fourth Welsh there, but the next day his bogus uniform had been detected and he was arrested.

On 5 October 1923, the Yorkshire Post noted that there had been only one prisoner for trial at the Rotherham Quarter Sessions, held on the previous day. Alfred Llewellyn, aged 39, an engineer, pleaded guilty to three charges of obtaining food and money by false pretences. “A remarkable story of the prisoner’s career” was told in court, and he was said to have committed similar offences at places including Weymouth, Cardiff, London, Hull, Bournemouth, Southport, Matlock and Sheffield. Between January 1906 and January 1916 he had spent a total of eight years in prison. Later he had joined the army and in 1919 was serving in Egypt when he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for desertion and false pretences. He was finally discharged from the army for misconduct on 14 August 1923.

Perhaps exhausted from his criminal adventures, Llewellyn asked the judge to give him a sentence of three years’ penal servitude plus five year’s penal detention. The judge replied that by law he couldn’t give him such a long sentence for the crimes he was charged with, and instead he got three years’ penal servitude. There is no record of him trying to escape.

Sources:

Newspapers all on the British Newspaper Archive:

Gloucester Journal, 13  and 20 Sept 1913, 1 Nov 1913

Birmingham Mail, 9 Apr 1915

Yorkshire Post, 5 Oct 1923

The photograph of Birdlip Hill came from www.geograph.org.uk.

© Jill Evans 2015

A bit of trouble with the deputies: Gloucestershire Constabulary, 1853-55

In November 1839, the magistrates of Gloucestershire’s Quarter Sessions decided to form a County Constabulary, under the terms of the County Police Act, which had recently been passed in Parliament. In December, Anthony Thomas Lefroy, an Englishman who had served for several years in the Irish Police and was at that time Chief Constable of County Wicklow, was appointed as the new force’s first Chief Constable. Lefroy brought with him from Ireland a number of his officers, including one Charles Keily (also written as Keiley, Keilly, Keighley, Kelly, and sometimes Reilly). Lefroy chose Keily to be his first Deputy Chief Constable, an appointment which was confirmed at the County Quarter Sessions in July 1840.

Charles Keily appears to have carried out his position as DCC diligently for over a decade. In August 1851, the Gloucester Journal reported that he had been presented with “a handsome silver snuff box, teapot, goblet and cream-jug, as a mark of the esteem in which he is held by the sergeants and constables of the County Police Force.” Two years later, though, Keilly left his position in dramatic circumstances.

On 2 July 1853, the Gloucester Journal revealed that on 23 June, the County Police had sent the following telegram to police forces in Bristol, Southampton, Liverpool, Swindon and Birmingham:

“Absconded this day, charged with embezzling £400, Charles Keily, deputy chief constable of the Gloucestershire Constabulary, 38 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, dark hair, brown whiskers, pale complexion, thin in person, dressed in dark clothes.”

In the same edition of the paper, a report on the proceedings of the County Quarter Sessions included a letter from Chief Constable Lefroy to the Chairman, in which he described what had happened. On 22 June, Keily had cashed a cheque for £445.10s.2d, with which he was to pay the wages of the staff in the Cheltenham  district. On the following morning, he did not come to work. Enquiries were made of his wife (the mother of eight children), who said he had just gone into town and would be at the office soon, but he did not appear and it was realised that he had absconded.

Despite the offer of a one hundred pounds reward and an extensive country-wide search, Keily’s whereabouts were not discovered, and the missing money had to be replaced out of the county rates. It was agreed at the Quarter Sessions that the next Deputy Chief Constable would be required to give a security for a sum of money not exceeding £500, so that such a circumstance would not occur again.

Chief Constable Lefroy (with thanks to Gloucestershire Police Museum)

Chief Constable Lefroy (with thanks to Gloucestershire Constabulary Police History Research website)

The man chosen to be Lefroy’s new deputy was Edward Wilkinson, a former coach driver. Two years after his appointment, the Cheltenham Chronicle (10 July 1855)reported that at the recent meeting of the County Quarter Sessions, “Mr Lefroy gave a statement concerning DCC Wilkinson, but the magistrates and chairman requested that the details be suppressed, as the whole of the circumstances were about to undergo judicial investigation at Cheltenham.”

The Cheltenham Chronicle of 24 July 1855 reported that a county court case had been heard in Cheltenham, in which a policeman named Alexander Gordon sued DCC Wilkinson for £10 damages, for taking improper liberties with his wife on three different occasions, on 6, 14 and 24 June. Mr and Mrs Gordon lived in rooms in the Cheltenham police station. Gordon was a constable, while his wife was employed to search any female prisoners brought in. The Gordons and Mr Wilkinson were on terms of “friendly intimacy.”

Mrs Gordon gave evidence that on 6 June, while her husband was out, Wilkinson came into her room, drew her to a sofa, and kissed her. On the 14th, he saw her alone, and put his hands on her shoulders, saying, “You don’t know how miserable I am.” On the 24th, he came to her room again, and said, “You don’t know how I love you; I have the same regard for you as a husband for a wife, and I hope you’ll love me.”

Wilkinson totally denied kissing Mrs Gordon on the day referred to, or using the language she described. He explained that “the familiarities which had taken place originated from a desire on his part to do away with a bad impression on hers, caused by his having committed the indiscretion of having attempted to kiss her on a day previous to those named in the charge.”

The Cheltenham Chronicle declined to go any further into what it described as “trivial details”, but the Hereford Journal was quite happy to elaborate on the case. This newspaper gave a fuller account of Mr Wilkinson’s evidence:

Wilkinson said that on a day previous to 6 June, he was upstairs in his office, and after an hour he knocked on Mrs Gordon’s door to ask for some water. When she answered she “had her hand to her dress”, and he said, “I see you are dressing, I beg your pardon for intruding on you; will you give me a little water to wash my hands?”  He went back to his office, and she followed with some water, which she poured into a basin. As she did so, he put his hand to the back of her neck, as though he was going to kiss her. If he did kiss her, he said, “it was as slight as possible”. On 6 June, he went to her room, where she was already sitting down, and taking one of her hands, apologised for his behaviour. He did not kiss her, and he didn’t put his hand round her neck, but, he said, “I might have put my hand round her waist.”

On 14 June he asked Mrs Gordon to come into his office. He took her hand and said, “I feel unhappy after the expressions of confidence you and Gordon have always said you have in me that I should have been guilty of any indiscretion; I have the utmost respect for you, and so far from wishing to do you any wrong I would prevent anyone else from doing so.” He didn’t use any expressions of love. He believed she said, “You have a wife of your own, and I have a good and kind husband”, to which he replied, “God forbid it should be otherwise.” Wilkinson insisted that he had never made any improper overtures to Mrs Gordon. He had not kissed her on the 6th, 14th or 24th June, nor had he taken any improper liberties with her. However, the jury returned a verdict in favour of the plaintiff, Gordon, and awarded him 40 shillings in damages.

Accounts vary as to whether Wilkinson resigned or was dismissed from his position. The man who would take his place was expected to be Peter Hay, the Superintendent of the County Police at Stroud, but he decided to take up a position in Ireland, which paid more. Instead, John Nicholls, of the Dursley district, became the third Deputy Chief Constable of the Gloucestershire Constabulary. He remained in the position until 8 March 1867, when he died at the Cheltenham Police Station.

Sources:

Gloucester Journal, 30 Aug 1851, 2 July and 16 July 1853

Cheltenham Chronicle, 28 July 1853, 10 July 1855, 24 July 1855, 31 July 1855, 21 Aug 1855, 12 March 1867

Hereford Journal, 1 Aug 1855

Harry Thomas, The History of the Gloucestershire Constabulary, 1839-1985 (Alan Sutton, 1987)

http://gloucestershirepolicemuseum.co.uk (Gloucestershire Constabulary Police History Research) has much useful information on the Gloucestershire Constabulary, plus a number of links to other sources.

© Jill Evans 2014