Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (06/Jan/1892) - The Linthwaite Murder

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.




At eight o'clock on Tuesday morning James Stockwell (32), farm labourer, paid the full penalty of the law at Armley Gaol, for the murder, on August 21st, of Catherine Dennis, 16 years old, a servant girl, at the Ivy Hotel Linthwaite. Since his conviction Stockwell has been most earnest and attentive to the chaplain. He always slept and eat well, and had breakfast as usual this morning. Stockwell was hanged on the permanent scaffold, Billington being the executioner. He walked firmly to the scaffold, and death appeared to be almost instantaneous. A drop of eight feet was given. The condemned man had a final interview with his friends on Monday, and before his execution made a full confession of his guilt to the chaplain.

Another account states :— The execution was carried out privately, the High Sheriff having decided that no reporters should be admitted, and the first intimation that the death sentence had been carried into effect was the hoisting of the black flag, which was witnessed by a small crowd of persons. On being told by the chaplain that he would have to suffer the extreme penalty of the law he was somewhat overcome, having hoped that the plea that insanity existed in the family would save him from the gallows ; but, speedily recovering himself, he said that he was prepared to die, and that he was drunk when he killed the girl. Subsequently to this he paid great attention to the chaplain's ministrations, and on Sunday attended service in the prison chapel He also wrote letters to his relatives cautioning them against the evils of drink. The chaplain (the Rev. Dr. Bolan) went to Stockwell's cell at six o'clock on Tuesday morning. Shortly before eight Billington entered the cell and pinioned the culprit. He then led him to the corridor, whence the procession started for the scaffold. Stockwell walked with a firm step and took his place on the trap door, the chaplain meanwhile reading the burial service. In a few moments the bolt was drawn and all was over. Death was instantaneous.


At 10 o'clock the jury were sworn before the borough coroner (Mr. J.C. Malcolm).

Mr. Malcolm said he thought it was hardly necessary to explain the painful duty the jury had to perform. They had first to satisfy themselves that the deceased person was the man sentenced to death ; and, secondly, to find that the sentence of the law had been duly carried out.

The jury then viewed the body, and, on their return,

Major Lane was called, and, in answer to the Coroner, said he was the governor of the prison.

Mr. Malcolm — Is the body now viewed the body of James Stockwell ? — It is.

What age ? — Thirty-two.

A farm labourer ? — A farm labourer, and married.

When was he first placed in your custody ? — On December 8th, 1891, from the Wakefield Prison

On a commitment, charged with wilful murder ? Yes.

Were you present at the trial at the last assizes held in Leeds ? I was.

Was he then tried for the murder of Catherine Dennis ? — Yes. He was convicted and sentenced to be hanged.

Has he remained in your custody till this morning ? — He has.

Then you handed him over to the Sheriff ? — I did.

Did you see the sentence carried out ? — I did.

Mr. E. Gray (the Under-Sheriff) was then sworn.

The Coroner — Were you present at the trial of the deceased ? — I was.

Is he the same person then found guilty and sentenced to be hanged ? — Yes.

Did you receive the person of the deceased from the Governor this morning ? — I did.

At eight o'clock? — Yes.

Did you cause the sentence to be duly carried out ? — I did.

Dr Hargreaves (the medical officer of the gaol)

Mr. Malcolm — Were you present when the execution was carried out ? — I was.

Was death instantaneous? — Instantaneous.

And by hanging? — By hanging.

What was the immediate cause ? — Dislocation, and fracture of the neck.

As a matter of satisfaction, Doctor, this death was instantaneous and there would be no pain whatever ? — No.

Mr. Malcolm then read the statute, and the jury returned a verdict of "Death by hanging."


My dear Father and Mother, Brothers, and Sister,

I write this short letter to you in the hope that you will bear your troubles which have so greatly distressed you of late. I was very pleased to see you all to-day, although I felt greatly troubled at the time. Many a prayer have I offered to God both on behalf of you and myself. Has He not said, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest ?" I leave with you my most affectionate love to mv dear mother. May God have mercy on her, and if it be His will, return to her her health and strength again. Grant, Oh Lord, Thy protection and mercy to all those from whom I am about to be separated in this world, especially to my father, mother, sister, and brother, and graciously supply all their needs. Comfort and support them in all their troubles. Deliver them from all temptation, and bring them to everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Remember me kindly to Abraham Lassey and Joe Sharp. So now I will bid you all a loving and affectionate farewell, hoping to met you all hereafter.

From your affectionate son and brother,

James Stockwell

P.S. — God Bless you all.



The following official communication was handed by Major Lane to the press representatives shortly after eight o'clock :—

H. M. Prison, Leeds, 5-1-1892.

Since his conviction Stockwell has been most earnest and attentive to the chaplain.

He always slept and ate well, and had his breakfast as usual this morning.

He was hanged in the same place that Turner was, and on the permanent gallows, which worked all right. Billington was the executioner, and he gave him a drop of 8ft. 6in.

Death appeared to be almost instantaneous, and all was carried out in an orderly and regular manner.

He was visited yesterday by his father, brothers, and sisters.

He has admitted his guilt to the chaplain.


It was on the evening of Friday, August 21st, that a rumour spread in the town to the effect that a horrible murder had been committed in the outskirts of the borough. More definite information fixed the locality at Linthwaite, and subsequent enquiries showed that the rumour was only too well founded. A young servant girl named Catherine Dennis, who came from Flint, and who had been engaged for the previous year as a domestic servant at the Ivy Hotel, had that afternoon, while left temporarily in charge of the premises, been brutally murdered. The horror of the discovery, which was made by several of the neighbours, was so great that for the time the murderer escaped. As soon as the people had returned to some sense of reason, enquiries were made as to the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime, and for the next few hours the disposition was strongly in favour of finding two unfortunate men, who happened to be in the neighbourhood, guilty. Their movements, viewed in the light of excited public opinion, seemed to lend colour to this idea, and they were not only arrested, but kept in custody until the following Monday, when they were discharged. In the meantime further enquiries elucidated the fact that a man named James Stockwell, who lived within a few hundred yards of the "Ivy," was in the house at the time Mrs. Brook, the landlady, left to do some business in Huddersfield. After the murder he mysteriously disappeared, leaving his home and his wife without one word of explanation. Stockwell was seen, just before the murder was discovered, to leave the "Ivy," and make off as if desirous of avoiding any of his acquaintances. After the two men were discharged the search for Stockwell commenced in earnest. His house was watched night and day, every place that he was likely to visit was kept strictly under surveillance, descriptions of him were circulated throughout the country, and the hue and cry became so warm that it seemed impossible he could long escape capture. Repeated reports were made of his having been seen at various places, and it would appear from Stockwell's own statements that some of these were no doubt true. He contrived to maintain a poor sort of subsistence up to September 7th, when he seemed to have been literally starved into submission. One of the most dramatic incidents of the story occurred on the morning of the last-mentioned day. His mother, who then lived in Brow Road, Paddock, awoke to discover in her bedroom the presence of her erring son. With little delay she carried out a promise she had previously made to the borough police, to the effect that she would acquaint them with his return if he appeared there. Accordingly Police Constable Taylor was informed that Stockwell was ready for arrest, and within a short time he was locked up by the police. Before this capture had been achieved the inquest had been concluded, and the evidence was so strong that the jury, without hesitation, returned a verdict of wilful murder against the then missing man. In the first instance Stockwell was brought before the borough magistrates, and caused a great sensation in court by pleading guilty to the charge of wilful murder. When handed over to the county police the prisoner, who was in a very dirty and emaciated condition, showing the hardships he had undergone in keeping away from the "haunts of men," became very communicative. He spoke of the many narrow escapes he had had from capture, having on various occasions been so close to his pursuers as to have heard their conversations, and on one occasion their plans, and generally conveyed the idea that he had had an exceedingly hard time of it. He appeared before the county magistrates on the 14th, and again on the 21st of September, on the last occasion being committed for trial at the Yorkshire Assizes held at Leeds. The trial took place on Tuesday, December 15th, and was remarkable chiefly for the fact that a new witness in the person of Arthur Thompson, a fellow-prisoner, who acted as nurse to Stockwell when the latter was in hospital, was called. This man testified to a series of confessions made to himself by Stockwell of the murder and of his subsequent wanderings. The defence was a plea of insanity, and evidence was given to show that many members of prisoner's family had suffered from that terrible complaint. After only 10 minutes' consideration the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the prisoner, who bore himself throughout the trial with singular composure, was sentenced to death in the usual form. Mr. J. Lewis Sykes, solicitor, to whom the prisoner's defence had been entrusted, drew up a petition to the Home Secretary asking for Stockwell's reprieve, but this does not appear to have been extensively signed, and their appeared to be little hope from the first that its prayer would be granted. We repeat below the chief points in this petition which told in the prisoner's favour :—

His maternal grandmother, Harriet Haigh, was confined in the Macclesfield Lunatic Asylum, from May 17th, 1872, to November 5th, 1872, and subsequently from October 28th, 1875, to December 12th, 1876, the date of her death in the Wadsley Lunatic Asylum.

His mother, Sarah Stockwell, formerly Haigh, was confined in the Lunatic Asylum at Wakefield, from March 21st, 1867, to October 19th, 1867, and was on October 24th, 1891, admitted to the Wadsley Lunatic Asylum, where she is still confined.

His married sister, Mary Emma Mellor, was confined in the Wadsley Lunatic Asylum from August 20th, 1889, to September 6th, 1890, and is again confined in the same asylum.

That the prisoner is 32 years of age, at which age his mother and sister developed signs of insanity, and were removed as above-mentioned.

Three paternal uncles of the prisoner were also more or less tainted with insanity. John Stockwell died an inmate of Wakefield Lunatic Asylum on the 21st of January, 1873 ; Caleb Stockwell had a sadden seizure and was roped down in bed ; and George Stock-well committed suicide.

Prisoner sustained severe injuries to his head, was thereby rendered insensible on three occasions, had complained of dizzy bouts and tender spots on his head ; had been addicted to intemperance.

The medical witnesses called on behalf of the prisoner stated that the facts relied on by the prosecution, namely, concealment, confession to a fellow-prisoner, and recollection of incidents were quite compatible with impulsive insanity at the time when the act was committed.

The prisoner has had interviews with his wife and other relatives, and expressed himself as ready to die. When the Home Secretary's communication was received on Saturday morning, intimating that he saw no reason to interfere with the course of justice, hope was abandoned, and Stockwell resigned himself to his fate. It is stated that Stockwell's mother was discharged from the asylum on Saturday. The mother of the unfortunate victim, however, was so prostrated by the shock caused by the news of the murder, that she lost her reason and died in the asylum, to which she had to be taken.