Sunday, 28 September 2014


As they are heard to say on BBC radio from time, "Some listeners may find this next item disturbing..." What follows is not a happy read, but although not legally a murder, it is every bit as grim as the Wisbech murders featured in earlier blogs. We live in what some people call a Nanny State. Rightly or wrongly, if things go wrong domestically, through illness or incapacity, there is supposed to be a community safety net, in the form of Social Services. Some might argue that the net has too many holes in it, but provided that when you fall, you don't hit one of the holes, there is still something there.

In 1920s Wisbech, there was no net, tattered or otherwise. This a digest of newspaper reports concerning the tragic - and painful - death of Annie Lizzie Rennison.



A revolting state of things was brought out in the evidence, the woman apparently never being moved out of her chair, and receiving no attention whatever. The prisoner, was warned on several occasions, and always promised to do something. He spent most of his time in a public-house, and had been heard to say if it was not for risking his neck he would do her in. 

A remarkable case came before Mr Justice Bray at the Cambridgeshire Assizes Cambridge on Wednesday. The prisoner, John Thomas Rennison, aged 60, a, painter, of Wisbech, was charged with killing his wife, Lizzie Rennison, by neglecting her. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and was unable to move. It was alleged that she had been in chair for some time, from which she was never moved for any purpose whatsoever. A curtain shutting out light had been stretched across the living-room, and it was behind this curtain, which shut out the external light, that she spent her life in the chair. She gradually got into a deplorable condition, and eventually died in her chair.
The prisoner was originally indicted for unlawfully killing Annie Lizzie Rennison. his wife at Wisbech, on July l8th 1922 , and was charged with the manslaughter on the Coroner's inquisition. The Grand Jury, however, returned true bill for murder. Medical testimony elicited the fact that the deceased woman was confirmed invalid and was unable to do anything for herself. Owing to inflammation of all structures of the joints, which caused a state of fixation, she was unable to move.

George Lucas, a Wisbech doctor, said he had treated the woman for some time, but found her incurable. If she had been looked after, there was no reason why she should not lived for many year, he said. Police-Sergeant Bush stated that he had visited the prisoner's house from to time, and always found Mrs Rennison in the same position and place, without any food or fire, in filthy condition. Sergeant Bush had warned the prisoner, and told him must see after his wife. Bush said, in evidence,

"I heard the prisoner speak of his wife in a wicked way, and once he said 'If weren't for my damned neck I would do for you once and for all'."

The prisoner was warned on several occasions, and always promised to do something. He spent most of his time in a public house. The prisoner, giving evidence on his own behalf, said he arranged for his wife to be attended to by another woman, and there was always money in a drawer near her, which she could have.

Mrs Bray, who was present when the woman died, and helped lay her out, gave a terrible description of the woman's bodily condition. There were maggots crawling over her, while her bones protruded through her flesh through sitting the same position, and there was a hole in her back caused by lying against the chair. The prisoner, under oath, said his wife could not carried, as it gave her great pain, and he thought it best for her to remain the chair. The curtain was to put up to keep out the draught, and to make her more comfortable. She was difficult to manage, and liked to have her own way. The jury found prisoner guilty of manslaughter, and the passed sentence of five years' penal servitude. 

Rennison did the crime, but never completed the time. A 1926 newspaper carried this passing report.

1926 John Thomas Rennison, a convict at  Parkhurst Prison, 63 years of age, doing a five-years’ sentence for manslaughter, died on Thursday last. He was convicted at the Cambridge Assizes in November, 1922. At the, inquest on Saturday, by the Deputy Coroner for the Island (Mr. Francis Joyce), the evidence showed that he had been suffering from paralysis for a year, and verdict of death as result of that malady, was returned.

Parkhurst Prison, Isle of Wight

It may be (and this is pure speculation) that the paralysis which Rennison suffered was actually General Paresis of the Insane - late stage syphilis. Men could contract the disease when younger. The initial symptoms would disappear, leaving a biological time bomb ticking away in the central nervous system of the afflicted person. 10, 20, 30, years later the disease would re-emerge, first affecting the victim's brain and perceptive powers, but then remorselessly shutting down his physical functions, one by one. If Rennison was suffering from this disease, then he paid a terrible price for the neglect of his wife.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


For generations, the fruit fields and orchards of Wisbech attracted pickers from all over the country, but particularly from London. Londoners might head south-east to pick the Kentish hops in September and October, but earlier in the summer the soft fruit grown and harvested around Wisbech would be a major attraction. Most of the pickers would be women and their children, but unemployed men could also find work.
No doubt many a romance blossomed in the fields, but with romance sometimes came jealousy, and in this tragic case, jealousy lead to murder. 

Minnie Morris was an attractive and cheeky 21 year-old who lived with her sister on Nile Street, Hoxton.This busy thoroughfare was completely redeveloped in the 1970s, but the two images below give some idea of what a change it must have been for young Minnie to come north to the clean air and big skies of the Fens in the summer of 1912. The picture (left) shows Nile Street as it looked just before WWI, while the picture on the right shows it just before all the old buildings were demolished.                                                                       

Minnie's flirty charm attracted several male admirers, but one in particular, 27 year-old Robert Galloway, a drifter who had also worked as a seaman, was particularly smitten. He was also very possessive, and jealous of any other men who paid attention to Minnie. As well as his obsession with Minnie, he was partial to strong drink, and most evenings found him more often drunk than sober. On the terrible evening of 16 July, he was convinced that Minnie was playing him for a fool, and he sought her out and strangled her in Burrett Lane. When her body was found, there was little doubt as to who the prime suspect would be, but the matter became clear of doubt when Galloway turned himself in to the police. This is how what became known as The Fen Murder played out in the press.

Stating that he had murdered a girl, a man, 25, who comes from North
Kensington and is a fruit-picker, gave himself to the Wisbech police on Tuesday night. It was found that a pleasant-looking girl, aged 19, also a London fruit-picker, had been strangled in a lane near Walsoken. A handkerchief was tied tightly round her neck. The man and the girl had been working together at a farm during the fruit season, and were last seen together at Old Walsoken about three o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. At the station the man is said to have remarked: "I have had my revenge, and I don't care."

Robert Galloway was a seaman and Minnie Morris was out fruit picking having travelled down from London for it. They had been drinking and Minnie Morris had been left stranded by her aunt and she told Robert Galloway that she would rather die than walk all the way back to London. He strangled her with a handkerchief and then gave himself up saying he did it out of jealousy. He said that she had asked him "Have you the pluck to end my misery?". Robert Galloway said he had little else recollection of what had happened because he was too drunk.

On Thursday at Wisbech the Police Court proceedings in connection with the Fen murder took place, and some important fresh evidence came to light. Robert Galloway, Angola Mews, North Kensington, was charged with murdering Minnie Morris, aged 21, of Hoxton, strangling her with a handkerchief in a lonely lane at Walsoken on July 16. Mr. Day, who prosecuted, said there was no doubt that the motive for the crime was jealousy, and it was significant that the murder was committed with a handkerchief given to the woman by the man of whom the prisoner was jealous. 

Another picker from London, named William Tucker, said had been seen by Galloway in the company the girl. Galloway asked Morris to leave the witness witness and go with him. She refused to, and Galloway said : "I can find you and  I will find him." He understood that as a threat to take their lives. Galloway here exclaimed with much feeling that had never spoken to Tucker, and what had been stated was a tissue lies. Galloway was committed for trial the next Norwich Assizes, and applied for legal aid under the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, saying that his defence was insanity. He was told he had not disclosed that in his defence, and would have make application to the Judge. 

OCTOBER 1912 - The Wisbech Murder Case. A Sentence  Of Death. At Norfolk Assizes, Norwich, Saturday, before Mr. Justice Darling, Robert Galloway. 27. described as a seaman, was indicted for murdering Minnie Morris, at Walsoken, near Wisbech, on July 16th. The prisoner had himself confessed  to the police that had murdered Morris, who was twenty-one years of age, and had gone to the Wisbech district from London for the fruit-picking season. She was strangled with a handkerchief, and her body was found at a spot which the prisoner had indicated. The motive for the crime was alleged to jealousy. The deceased lived with a sister Nile Street. Hoxton. Prisoner was found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Robert Galloway  was hanged in Norwich on 5 November 1912, and the hangman was Thomas Pierrepoint. The photo below shows Thomas Pierrepoint seated next to his nephew Albert, who would take over what had almost become a family business. Albert Pierrepoint became the most celebrated hangman of the 20th century, despatching, among others, many Nazi war criminals, and the last woman in Britain to hang, Ruth Ellis.

Sunday, 21 September 2014


There was one very serious case before the jury at Cambridge Assizes in June 1905. It was a charge against John Day of murdering the woman with whom he was living, Frances Parlett. She was married about six years ago, but left her husband, and for two years she had lived with the accused at 18a Carpenter's Arms-yard. At one o’clock in the morning May 2nd they were in their living room, one of two rooms in which they lived. Day, having fallen asleep, was awakened by the woman, and it was said that either in sudden anger or with malice aforethought, he seized a lighted paraffin lamp which was on the table, and threw it at her. She was at once covered in flames, and screamed and rushed to the front door. A very worthy man who lived near, and who often heard screams, went out and saw the poor creature. With remarkable courage and pluck, this elderly man rushed hack into his house and secured some blankets, with which he put out the flames. Next day the woman died, fearfully burnt. The evidence was that the accused, about 11 o'clock that night, was heard to say to her that he would do something to her when he got home.
Nothing remains of Carpenter's Arms-yard today. It was a narrow lane running off what is now West Street, and it ended just short of Tillery Field, which in those days was a cemetery. Its position was more or less where St Paul's Close is now. By all accounts it was one of the meaner streets of the town. I have been unable to find any
image of Carpenter's Arms Yard, but it is safe to imagine that it would have been narrow, dirty and the tiny terraced houses would have been packed with residents  who were at the bottom end of society. The photo on the right is of an existing Wisbech alley which, due to its central position has survived more or less intact, and gives us an idea of what the Yard might have looked like Carpenter's Arms Yard was earmarked for slum clearance in the late 1920s along with its near neighbour Ashworth's Yard, and both were gone before the outbreak of World War II. What is now St Peter's Road was probably more prosperous than either of the Yards, and its terraced houses were spared the redevelopments of the 1930s. It is tempting to look back and wish that more of old Wisbech had been preserved, but we would do well to remember that conditions in these old houses would be awful, even by standards of the time. Damp, insanitary and built on the cheap, these grim places contributed to the general poor health and high death rate of the time. The cemetery at the bottom of the slight slope of Carpenter's Arms Yard was actually instituted as an overflow burial ground when a cholera epidemic struck the town earlier in the 19th century.

Back to the terrible events of May, 1905. Sadly, Frances Parlett died of her burns the next day, and the wheels of the law began to grind. The first step was a Coroner's Inquest.At the inquest, it was reported that:
"Deceased was suffering from extensive superficial burns, extending from the knees to the armpits, and the front part was worse than the back. If deceased had been sitting at a table and the lamp capsized one would have expected more severe burns at one particular spot. There were no marks on her face or chest to show that they had come in contact with a hard substance, and would have expected to have found some marks on the body if it had been struck by the lamp with much violence."

In answer to the Foreman, a witness said he thought the lamp could be thrown with sufficient force on the steel of the deceased’s corsets to break the lamp and not mark the body. The skin was discoloured too much to see any bruise. Herbert Brightwell, bootmaker, 19a, Carpenter’s Arms-yard, said heard the deceased and Day come home about 11 o’clock on the night in question. About one o’clock he was awakened by the shuffling of feet, but he heard no voices. Immediately afterwards he heard a woman scream, and saw a bright light flash across his window. The woman continued to scream, and he went downstairs. When he opened the door of Day’s house the deceased, who was in flames, fell into his arms. Witness attempted to put out the flames by wrapping blankets round her. 

Brightwell  asked Day to assist him, but he did not do so, and said nothing. Having put out the flames, witness ran to tell Deceased's sister, and Day ran after him, saying "What the **** are you exciting yourself about. If you don’t come back here I will jolly well put you through it as well.”

It was also alleged that after the woman was in this fearful condition, Day did nothing to help extinguish the fire except to pour some water on the woman from a small teapot. He was also said to have threatened do the same for a man who was trying put out the flames if he made fuss about it. There was no other possible conclusion at the inquest other than that Frances Parlett had met her painful end through the violent actions of John Day, and that Day must face trial for murder.

At Day's trial in June 1905, much was made of the fractious and often violent relationship between Frances Parlett and himself. The poor woman did not die until the next day, and in the immediate aftermath of the attack initially defended Day, but then the following exchange was relayed to the court. Sergeant Watson took the prisoner upstairs to see the deceased, and they had a conversation.
Day said, " Frances, did I do it ?”
She answered, "Yes, you bad boy, you know you did it,”
Day said, “It’s false.”
Frances repeated, "You did, you bad boy, you know you did.”
She was also heard to say, "You murderer, you have done it this time. You have had a good many tries, and you have done it this time.”

In the event, the defence barrister for Day made great play on the grave
responsibility that the jurors held. If they found Day guilty of murder, he would surely hang. In the words of the newspaper report, Mr Stewart, for the defence, remarked that the punishment for the crime with which the prisoner was charged was death, and it was not necessary to say more than that to bring home the jury the great and terrible responsibility that rested upon them. The onus of proof against the prisoner lay with the prosecution, and it was for them to satisfy the jury beyond the possibility of reasonable doubt that the prisoner was responsible for the deed. He contended that this had not been done. The statement of the woman was not in nature of dying declaration,and it ought not to regarded as more important, or have more credence attached to it than was attached to any of the evidence called before the Court during the day.

The jury baulked at finding Day guilty of murder, but found him guilty of manslaughter, for which he received the sentence of seven years Penal Servitude. It is pointless to speculating over a century later whether Frances Parlett received justice. If John Day had committed the offence in 2014 and had been found guilty of either manslaughter or murder, he would have been spared the hangman's noose. It is also fair to point out that women were not permitted to sit on criminal case juries until well after the Great War, a war which was to claim five more victims from Carpenter's Arms Yard.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


On 15 September 1885, a 45 year-old Walsoken farmer called Robert Goodale murdered his wife, Bathsheba. After battering her about the head with a billhook, he attempted to hide her corpse by throwing it down a well. 
It was a troubled marriage, and Bathsheba Goodale had frequently sought refuge with a neighbour from her husband's violent temper. Goodale had confided in a friend, that he "had done the business, she won't bark at me any more."

This is an extract from a contemporary newspaper account.
A woman named Goodale. the wife of a small farmer and market gardener, was. about seven o’clock on Wednesday morning, found dead in well on the premises belonging to their cottage, which is situate near the Rifle Butts. The deceased woman owned several places in Albion Place, Wisbech, in one of which she and her husband were accustomed to sleep, as the cottage at the Butts was lonely. Some suspicion was aroused by the arrival of Goodale in Wisbech without his wife on Tuesday evening, and the following morning the discovery her body was made. On the woman’s head were several severe wounds, evidently Inflicted by some sharp instrument. 

The husband is in custody, and will be brought up before the Norfolk magistrates, in which county the scene of the supposed murder situated. The accused was brought in custody on Wednesday, before Mr. A. W. English, a Norfolk magistrate, charged with the wilful murder of Bathsheba his wife, at Walsoken, on the 13th of September.—Sergeant Houghton deposed that he went towards the house the accused, and saw him on the river bank. He noticed he had some blood on his “chummy hat and waistcoat." When taken into custody, he said, It’s a rum job.” He asked where she was, and witness told him her body was in the well. asked witness to let him and see, and he went with accused to the well. There was a body in it partly covered by water. Accused was then left in charge of two men. while the body was got out of the well. Witness recognised the body as that of Bathsheba Goodale. 

There was a large wound on her left temple, another large wound on the top and back of her head, with blood flowing from them. The wounds witness thought were sufficient to kill her. The depth of the well was twenty feet. Witness had not found any instrument that might have caused the wounds. There were blood spots on his trousers, which appeared to have been washed. Accused said that he got wet by going through the marshes. Cross-examined by prisoner: I don’t remember you saying it was earlier than five o’clock when you left your house.—The prisoner was committed to Norwich Castle, to be brought up for trial at Terrington on Monday next.

Goodale was found guilty of murder, and was executed on 30 November, 1885, inside Norwich Castle. The hangman was James Berry of Bradford, but his calculations went awry. 

Norwich Castle at the time of Goodale's execution

As the trapdoor opened, and the 15 stone Goodale fell to his death, the official onlookers gasped with horror as the rope rebounded out of the trapdoor, swinging loose. As Berry and the prison surgeon looked under the staging of the scaffold they saw the Goodale's body lying there - with his decapitated head, still wearing the execution hood, beside it on the ground.
It had not been a great year for Berry. Earlier in the year he had famously failed to hang John Babbacombe Lee (The Man They Couldn't Hang) when the trapdoor repeatedly failed to open. Here is James Berry's calling card.
Please check back at the weekend for the next installment of MURDER MOST FOUL

Sunday, 14 September 2014


An old Wisbech murder surfaced this weekend on social media. Someone reported a mysterious memorial which has been placed at the edge of Wisbech Park. It is in the shape of a fairly rough wooden cross, with a laminated message pinned to it.

Speculation about the event it refers to was ended by the keen researcher's brain of Susanah Farmer, who found the following references, in contemporary newspapers far from Fenland. This, from The Nottingham Evening Post:
The inquest on the victims of the Wisbech double tragedy was resumed at Wisbech, Cambs, to-day. They were Doris Florence Reeve, 24, who was found stabbed to death on a footpath near Wisbech Park, and her husband, Walter Reeve, 26, of Low Side, Upwell, Norfolk, found hanging from the luggage rack of a railway coach at Wisbech station. A verdict of Murder and felo-de-se against the husband was returned. At the opening of the inquest yesterday the woman's father said that her married life was not a happy one, and that her husband had ill-treated her and misconducted himself. Divorce proceedings were pending. This from the Western Daily Press:

Within a few hours his wife being found apparently stabbed death, on footpath adjoining the Wisbech. Cambridgeshire, public park. Walter Reeve (26), of Upwell, Norfolk, was discovered hanging from the luggage rack of a railway carriage. The woman, Mrs Florence Doris Reeve, (24), had been living apart from her husband for about two months and was staying with her parents in Wisbech. She was last seen alive at about 11 o'clock on Saturday night, when a friend accompanied her from a cinema to a garage, which only a few hundred yards from the spot where her body was found. Some men who had slept out in the park discovered the body early yesterday. When police officers under Supt. F. Green, of Wisbech visited Reeve's house, they forced an entry, but found the house unoccupied. A few hours later his body was found hanging from the luggage rack a railway carriage siding at Upwell The spot where the woman's body lay was only about yards from the main road through the town to the east coast. The couple had been married about two years and had no children.

Wisbech has been no stranger to horrific murder cases, whether they took place in this century or previous times. In the next blog, read about the Walsoken man who battered his wife with a billhook, then threw her body down a well. You will be chilled at the macabre way he met his death within the walls of Norwich Castle.