A WISBECH TRAGEDY
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
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.