Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (16/Dec/1891) - The Linthwaite Tragedy: Trial and Sentence of Stockwell

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 the West Riding Assizes, held at Leeds, on Tuesday, before Mr. Justice Wright, James Stockwell (32), farm labourer, of Linthwaite, was indicted for the wilful murder of Catherine Dennis, domestic servant at the Ivy Hotel, Linthwaite, on the 21st of August last. There was a large crowd in court, and the greatest interest was apparently taken in the case by everybody except the prisoner, who remained seated throughout the case with his hands clasped in front of him, and never raised his eyes from the gentlemen immediately in front of him. Since his arrest Stockwell has grown his beard, and seemed all the better in appearance for his detention in goal.

Singularly enough the counsel engaged were exactly the same as those who appeared in the Horsfoth murder case, viz., Mr. Harold Thomas and Mr. Edmondson (who were instructed by Messrs. Laycock, Dyson, and Laycock, the solicitors appointed by the Treasury) for the prosecution, and Mr. C. Mellor and Mr. C. Felix Palmer (instructed by Mr. J. Lewis Sykes) for the defence.

In reply to the usual question, "Are you guilty or not guilty ?" prisoner replied softly, but with distinctness, "Not guilty."

Mr. Thomas, in opening the case for the Crown, dwelt on the serious character of the charge against the prisoner, who he said lived at Linthwaite, and was in the habit of visiting the Ivy Hotel to have drink. He knew the girl Dennis — who would be described by her mistress as an honest, hard-working servant — but up to the day of the murder there was no suggestion of any quarrel or impropriety of any kind. He went through the facts to be detailed in evidence, directing the attention of the jury to the statements of the witnesses, to the effect that Stockwell was seen in the house several times during the day of the murder, that he was the last man seen to leave the house before the discovery of the girl's body, and that he absented himself from home for 16 or 17 days. Was this, he asked, the act of an innocent man who had a wife and one child living in the neighbourhood ? He was ultimately arrested at the house of his parents, 2, Lower Brow, Paddock, and he then said, "I haven't had anything to eat for six days. I must have been asleep all the time." Where was he all the time? counsel asked. It showed that he had been hiding. There was found upon him some bean pods partly eaten. On his clothing were also found hay seeds. When in custody prisoner volunteered a statement.

His Lordship — I see that was objected to by counsel for the defence before the magistrates. I don't know why.

Mr. Thomas — Very well, my lord, I won't go into it.

Mr. Thomas then said that there was another statement which prisoner made to a man named Thompson, who was, like the prisoner, in custody at Wakefield, awaiting his trial at the present assizes. He asked the jury to accept that evidence with the greatest caution, considering the circumstances under which it was given.

His Lordship — Do the defence know all you know of his evidence ?

Mr. Mellor — We know that a man named Thompson is going to say something.

Mr. Thomas — We don't know what the witness will say. In concluding Mr. Thomas said that no doubt the prisoner was to some extent under the influence of drink, but drunkenness would be no excuse for the crime. He asked the jury if they thought the evidence conclusive — considering prisoner's visits to the public-house and his subsequent attempt to escape from justice — to find him guilty. On the other hand, if the facts were not conclusive, let them acquit the prisoner.

John William Cocking, architect, of Huddersfield, examined by Mr. Edmondson, said he had made a survey of the Ivy Hotel, Linthwaite, and the surrounding country. He produced a plan showing the result of the survey, which, however, did not show the position of the back kitchen door. The ground behind the house was about one storey below the level of the frontage to the Manchester Road. He was going on to describe the rooms in the house when

The Judge asked if anything turned on all this?

Mr. Mellor remarked that he might at once say that he had listened attentively to the very fair opening of his friend, and there would be very little conflict indeed in the direct evidence offered either by his friend or himself. His friend might, therefore, bring the witnesses very shortly up to the main point in the evidence.

Mr. Cocking, in answer to further questions, said that a person entering the Ivy Hotel by the passage could not see a person seated on the longsettle in the kitchen.

Margaret Brook said, in answer to Mr. Thomas, that in the month of August she was the landlady of the Ivy Hotel. She had a servant named Kate Dennis, who was about 16 years of age, and had been with her 12 months. She had known the prisoner for many years. He called at her house occasionally. She had not noticed anything between the prisoner and Kate Dennis before the 21st of August. Deceased was a very good girl. On Friday, the 21st August, the prisoner came to her house about seven o'clock in the morning. He then had some bread and dripping. He called at the house a little before one with some other men, one of whom was John Charles Brook, witness's grandson. Witness told Kate to get her grandson some potato pie, and Stockwell, at his own request, was allowed to share. He ate the pie with a pen-knife, but she could not say whether the one produced by Police Constable Taylor was like it. Whilst prisoner was in the kitchen with a man named Ainley — her grandson having left — she (witness) told Kate Dennis that she was going to Huddersfield, and would be back about four or half-past. She left at a quarter to two o'clock with a grandson, and returned about a quarter to five, after the murder had been discovered.

Cross-examined — Anyone could see Stockwell had had some drink when he was in her house at dinner time. He had a pint of beer there then.

John Charles Brook, teamer, of Yates Lane, Milnsbridge, grandson of the last witness, said he went to the Ivy Hotel on the 21st August about 9-30 or 9-45 in the morning. He remained there a few minutes. He returned as near as he could tell about 12-45 with James Stockwell and Oscar Dransfield. They went with him into the kitchen. He saw the knife with which the prisoner ate his pie, but did not take particular notice of it. He and Oscar Dransfield left the prisoner in the house with Kate Dennis and two of his (witness's) cousins. Stockwell was then a little bit "fresh."

Cross-examined — He saw Stockwell the first time on the morning in question at half-past nine. He was not a bit "fresh" then. Oscar Dransfield was there, and they all left together at 10 o'clock, and went to the "Royal Oak." Witness had a bottle of hop-ale and the two others had a glass of beer each. He should say that Stockwell had rather more than three glasses of beer. Stockwell and Dransfield played at corks for beer — he could not say whether it was for a quart or a half gallon per game — and played four or five games. In addition to sharing in this, Stockwell would perhaps have three or four gills of beer. He could not say what quantity Stockwell would have altogether.

Ebor Whitwam, teamer, said he was at the "Ivy" from 12-10 to 1-30 on the day in question. When he left the prisoner was in the kitchen. Witness did not notice how the prisoner was for drink.

Cross-examined — He did not see Stockwell when he left, but had not seen him leave.

Mr. Thomas said that the witness John Walker, of Smith Riding, Linthwaite, was unable to be present in consequence of illness.

John Burnley Walker, surgeon, of Golcar, gave medical evidence to this effect, and

William Fitton, assistant clerk to the West Riding magistrates at Huddersfield, said that he took the depositions produced, and that they were signed by the witness Walker.

The Clerk of Assize read the depositions of. Walker, which were to the effect that he (Walker) called at the Ivy Hotel at half-past two to take something to Milnsbridge for Mrs. Brook. Mrs. Brook was not in, and he left. At that time he saw the prisoner there, and Kate Dennis. On his return from Milnsbridge he passed the "Ivy" about four o'clock, and when about 14 or 15 yards below saw the prisoner leaving the front door.

Herbert Hirst, weaver, of Milnrow Terrace, Milnsbridge, deposed to being at the Ivy Hotel on the afternoon of the day named. He left at 25 minutes to three, and as he was going out he met a stranger coming in wearing white overalls.

Mr. Mellor — I may say at once, my lord, I make no point about this man.

John William Iredale corroborated the last witness's evidence.

John Lockwood, of Springfield Terrace, deposed to seeing the man with the white overalls come into Royal Oak Inn, Linthwaite, at 3-10, and leave at 4-30.

Mrs. Jane Carter, of Smith Riding, said that at five minutes to four o'clock she saw David Beevers, the butcher's boy from the Jovial Stores, coming down the road on his bicycle. At the same time she saw Stockwell come out of the "Ivy," and walk away in the direction of Huddersfield.

Cross-examined — She went out to take her child out of the way of Beever's bicycle. She was 75 yards away from the "Ivy," and Stockwell, who walked in the opposite direction, had his back towards her.

Peter Whiteley, twister-in, of Smith Riding, deposed to meeting Stockwell in Yew Tree Lane coming from the direction of the "Ivy," from which they were some 200 yards distant, about four o'clock. He said to the prisoner "How do, Jim ?" and prisoner replied "How do ?" Witness walked on past the "Ivy," and saw David Beevers in front with his bicycle.

Mr. Mellor said he could not dispute that Stockwell was seen in the neighbourhood of the house at the time stated.

His Lordship — They are doing quite right in proving this.

Witness in the course of further examination, said he thought prisoner looked a bit "fresh," but he walked all right.

Cross-examined — He had known prisoner a year or two, and had seen him "fresh" sometimes. Beyond being a bit "fresh" on the day in question, there was nothing particular in his appearance to attract attention.

David Beevers, butcher, employed at thy Linthwaite Stores at Jovial, deposed to going to the "Ivy " with some meat a few minutes past four on the day in question. There was no one in the rooms on the ground floor, and after leaving the meat in the kitchen he went out and informed Edwin Hoyle, who was working in a field behind. Witness also went and fetched a neighbour named Mrs. Bailey, and they searched the house. Hoyle and witness went into the cellar, and whilst they were there they heard Mrs. Bailey scream. They ran up, and Mrs. Bailey told them to go upstairs. They did so, and found the dead body of Kate Dennis lying on the landing. There was a wound in the neck, from which blood had flowed on to the floor, and the clothing was slightly disarranged.

Cross-examined — If anybody went out of the "Ivy" by the back door they could not get on to the canal towing path, by which they could go to Slaithwaite, without crossing the river. There was a bridge across the river, and the road leading to this could be reached by crossing a field, without going on to the Manchester Road, to which the Ivy Hotel fronted.

Edwin Hoyle, dry waller, of Linthwaite, corroborated the evidence of Beevers as to the discovery of the body, but said, in cross-examination, that her clothes were as straight as they could be.

Mrs. Sarah Ann Bailey was called, but was told that her evidence was not required.

William Stansfield, a retired member of the West Riding Constabulary, who had been stationed at Milnsbridge for 32 years, said he had known the prisoner for 24 or 25 years. He was a married man, with one child, and had lived at Delph Terrace, Manchester Road Side. He saw the prisoner the day before the murder, but had not seen him since. He had assisted in watching the prisoner's house.

Cross-examined — Prisoner went "on the spree" occasionally. The Stockwells had always been a respectable family. He did not know of his own knowledge that they were once better off, but had been told so.

Thomas Hinchliffe Haigh, surgeon, of Golcar, deposed to being called to see the deceased about a quarter to five o'clock on the afternoon of Friday, the 21st August. There was a wound in the neck which might have been caused by the knife produced. It penetrated the wind pipe to a depth of 2h or 3 inches, and separated the thyroid vessel, but not the main arteries. The loss of blood caused the death. He was of opinion that there had been a slight attempt at outrage, but he could not say how long previously.

Cross-examined — He thought the wound had been caused first by an incision, and that the penetration of the windpipe was the result of a second thrust. He should not like to say the wound could not have been caused by one thrust. The separation of the thyroid vessel would not cause blood to spurt out very freely, because there would be retraction, as this was not a direct cut, and the wound was in an oblique direction. He should think death was hardly instantaneous, but that there was no struggle, as he believed the girl was in a faint at the time. He could not say whether the deceased was a strong young woman, or what was her height or weight. She might weigh five stones.

His Lordship — I must ask you to pay rather more respect to the case and to the questions put to you by counsel. Do you mean to tell the jury that the woman might have weighed only five stones ?

Witness : Yes! I think about that. In the course of further cross-examination, witness said he thought there might have been a recent outrage committed on the girl, but he should not like to say that there had been. He had not made a postmortem examination in this case. There was no necessity. He did not think if he had he would have been able to find traces of a recent outrage. Mr. Mellor asked witness, rather warmly, if he knew this was a charge of murder ? He replied in the affirmative, and his examination then concluded.

Police Sergeant Macaulay and Police Constables Webb, Evans, Ashworth, and Pitcher, of the West Riding Constabulary, gave evidence as to having watched the house of the prisoner in the interval that elapsed between the murder and the arrest, and deposed that he never returned home.

Police Constable Taylor, of the Huddersfield Borough Constabulary, spoke to the arrest of Stockwell in the bedroom of his mother's house on the morning of the 7th September, and to his reply to the charge, "I haven't done it." On the way to the police station he said, "I haven't had anything to eat for six days. I must have been asleep all the time." On searching prisoner, he found 1s. in money on him. His clothing was also covered with hay seeds. The witness also deposed to prisoner making a voluntary statement to him in the cells after he had been before the borough magistrates, to the following effect: "It's no use going so far round about it. I might as well get it all over at once. It's all through drink. I was lying down on the seat, and she kept pulling my hair."

Cross-examined — He said this quite calmly, as if he were detailing an ordinary event.

Henry Clark, medical officer at the Wakefield Prison, said that whilst awaiting trial there Stockwell was in the hospital. A man named Thompson, who was also awaiting trial, acted as nurse, along with another man named Wilson.

Cross-examined — Stockwell was sent into hospital because he was weak through loss of food. It was not on account of certain insane tendencies shown in his family, but there was a possibility of such information being received subsequently.

Arthur Thompson, who had been convicted of stealing whisky, was then placed in the witness box, and said that he acted as nurse to the prisoner voluntarily — prisoners awaiting trial were not compelled to work — (laughter) — from to 7th September to the 5th October. Prisoner asked witness "What he was in for ?" and he replied, "For getting drunk ; have you been getting drunk and ill-using somebody?" Prisoner replied, "I've done a murder." Witness said, "Nonsense. We don't want to speak about that." It was close upon supper time. On the following day, prisoner complained about his legs being stiff, and in reply to witness's enquiries as to what was the matter, prisoner said he had been sleeping in a haystack for 16 days and had nothing to eat with the exception of a few apples and beans. Witness said he could not believe it, but prisoner persisted in his statement. After dinner prisoner began to cry and told witness it was about his wife and child at home. Prisoner asked witness to read the Bible to him, as he was no scholar, and the clergyman came and told him to prepare for a future world. On a subsequent occasion prisoner told witness that it was a young girl he had murdered, and in reply to his questions said he had not been keeping company with her clandestinely. He had never had anything to do with the girl, and had never seen her before to his knowledge. He further added that he must have been mad to do it, but he had been drinking heavily for two or three days, and when he was under the influence of drink he acted like a maniac and did not know what he was doing. He asked prisoner how he knew this, and he replied that his friends told him so. Witness also asked the prisoner how it occurred, and he replied that he was drinking in the "Ivy" public-house with another man who left him with this girl. She tormented him by knocking off his hat, and pulling his moustache and hair, and in a moment of passion he ran to get hold of her and she ran upstairs. Prisoner said nothing immoral took place, but admitted that he put his hands underneath the girl's dress, and she said she would tell. Witness asked what she would tell and prisoner replied he did not know. Then "the curtain dropped," and prisoner said no more.

Cross-examined — Prisoner had no notice that these conversations would be used in evidence against him. He did not give information to the warders, but was interviewed by a gentleman on the subject. He had acted as nurse before, but it had never been his duty before to report what people had said under similar circumstances. He might have asked a good many questions, but close confinement sharpened a man's intellect, and he wanted to know something of the outer world.

This closed the case for the Crown, and the court was at this juncture adjourned for luncheon.

Mr. Mellor, in addressing the court for the defence, after speaking of the grave issues involved in the case, said it must not be understood from the fact that he had refrained from cross-examining that he was not at variance with the inferences they would be asked to place upon the evidence. He should ask them to look at this case from one or two different points of view, because he would tell them candidly what the defence was that he was going to set up on behalf of the prisoner. He asked them to consider what the evidence was apart from the incriminatory statements made by the prisoner to the two witnesses who had been called — what they came to against him, and what they came to in his favour. There was no doubt that on the day of the murder the prisoner was in and out of the Ivy Hotel more or less, perhaps some of the jury would say up to the crucial time — four o'clock in the afternoon. As far as they knew he was left there at a quarter-past three o'clock in the afternoon, and therefore if he was the man who committed the terrible act, it must have been done between a quarter-past three and shortly before four o'clock in the afternoon. He remarked upon the weakness of the evidence as to the man with the white overalls. It could not be supposed that he was the only stranger who entered the public-house, because he put it that but for the statement later on by the prisoner, it might have been put to the jury, "Where were the other men ?" Referring to the unfortunate absence, through illness, of Mr. John Walker, Mr. Mellor said he would have liked to have asked him a few questions in order to see whether he was very accurate about the time he saw the prisoner. But supposing Stockwell was the man who came out of the house at the time alleged, what evidence was there to connect him with the crime with which he was charged? He commented on the manner in which the evidence of a most important witness had been given. Probably from some physical infirmity it was impossible to argue the question with him or to get an answer out of him. But he (Mr. Mellor) should suggest that whoever struck the blow which caused the girl's wound, it was one blow struck with considerable violence ; and they hardly wanted a doctor to tell them that when any of the arteries which had been described were penetrated by a blow of that character the blood spurted out. He pointed this out because there was no evidence that the prisoner or his clothes had a trace of blood upon them. Then a knife was produced, and witnesses very fairly said they saw the prisoner with a knife, but that they could not say that was the one. This knife, they might be sure, had been carefully examined, and yet there was no evidence of a single trace of blood upon it. They were asked to believe that a man like the prisoner, having committed the most terrible act it was possible to imagine, actually walked out of the front door of the house, and passed people as if nothing had happened. He described the evidence of Thompson as tainted, and remarked that it might have been given in order to gain the favour of those in whose custody he would be. His evidence was very much like the evidence of an accomplice, the corroboration of which was strenuously demanded by all who were connected with the administration of justice. He commented on the fact that apparently a man who was strong in health was placed in a cell alone, and was not allowed to be spoken to, whilst a man like prisoner, with mind and body weakened, had somebody watching over his weak moments, and might be subjected to an examination which, if persisted in, might lead to disastrous results in the future. He urged that the Crown had not brought home this accusation as it ought to have done. Apart altogether from the merits of the case, there was the terrible history of the prisoner's family, tainted by that most terrible scourge of insanity. Prisoner's grandmother died in an asylum. The taint broke out in the prisoner's mother at the age of 32, the same age the prisoner now was ; at the same age his own sister showed the same symptoms ; and such was the way in which the present dreadful affair had affected his mother that she had had to be removed to an asylum again. The prisoner's uncle died in an asylum. He would show them that early in life the prisoner gave evidence to his parents of that same terrible scourge having broken out. He would show them that his head was cut open when in early manhood, and thus his failing was aggravated, and he also developed a craving for drink, which must have intensified the original disease. The night before the murder, at 12 o'clock, prisoner was found lying dead drunk. He was awakened, and then his conduct became that of a maniac, jumping wildly about. When he got home his conduct was still more extraordinary. He said he had a delusion that two policemen wore following him, and he accused his wife of taking money from him. Thus in his wild way he went on until they found him drinking as early as seven o'clock next morning, and continuing throughout the day, up to the time of the murder, his drinking career. Where was the motive, asked the learned counsel, which could have prompted this murder ? There was, at any rate, one incident in the case which they could clearly feel satisfied upon, and upon which they could rejoice. There was no suspicion whatever, he remarked, that the poor girl had had her last moments embittered by any act of outrage, such as had been suggested in a half-hearted way in the box. He again placed the issues before the jury, and proceeded to call his witnesses.

Evidence in corroboration of counsel's statement regarding the insanity in prisoner's family, as to the injuries prisoner had received to the head, and his conduct when in drink was given by Ann Haigh, wife of John Haigh, who was the son of prisoner's grandmother ; by Mark Stockwell, prisoner's father ; John Stockwell, his brother ; George Henry Pearson, labourer, of Paddock ; and Elizabeth Garside, sister of the prisoner's wife, who had lived with them for about six years. In cross-examination, the latter said that during the interval between the murder and the arrest the prisoner was not at home.

James Robert Kaye, medical officer of health for the borough of Huddersfield, who said he had had four years' experience as assistant medical officer in an asylum near Birmingham, and Peter MacGregor, surgeon, Huddersfield, were called to prove that the prisoner, from his antecedents and mode of life, would be pre-disposed to what was termed "impulsive insanity."

This closed the case for the defence. Mr. Mellor, in summing up to the jury, dwelt on the insanity of the prisoner's family — which, with his intemperate life, would predispose prisoner to a sudden outbreak of insanity — and the absence of motive for the crime. He thought prisoner could not complain of the way in which the case had been placed before the jury and the Crown.

Mr. Thomas followed. He thought the offence was practically admitted, and that it was merely the question of insanity. He pointed out that the statements made by the prisoner to Taylor and Thompson (who had not had access to the papers to learn any particulars) corresponded in almost every particular. There was no suggestion that prisoner was so much under the influence of drink that he did not know what he was doing. He submitted that the defence had not made out that at the time the commission of the offence, prisoner was not a state of mind to be responsible for his actions.

His Lordship then proceeded to sum up. He acknowledged the fairness of the counsel on each side, and felt sure the jury would follow the dictates of their conscience in giving their verdict. The first question they had to decide was one of fact: Did the prisoner commit the offence with which he was charged ? His lordship went shortly through the evidence, and, in the course of his remarks, said he did not know that they had any reason to doubt the evidence of Thompson. With regard to the question of drink there was no pretence that prisoner was so drunk as not to know what he was about. He would not stop, therefore, to discuss whether this should have influenced their minds in considering their verdict. There remained, however, the very serious question of insanity. The term "impulsive insanity" was a new name for what had been well known in the past. If they took the calendar of 70 prisoners to be tried at those Assizes, he thought experience showed that the large majority would come of families with hereditary insanity. If they acquitted people of crimes on the ground that they had relations who were insane they would be doing a very serious thing. They would be loosening the hold the law had upon the most criminal of all classes, because it was precisely those persons who came of semi-insane families who committed the worst crimes, who were the most liable to commit crimes, and who most required that the law, in the first instance, should be strenuously administered. They were not there to say whether capital punishment should or should not be administered. If they believed prisoner guilty the sentence of death would have to be passed, and it was for the Crown, acting upon the advice of its responsible advisers, to say whether the sentence should be carried out. He read to them the law on the subject as follows :— "To establish a defence on the ground of insanity it must be clearly proved that at the time of the committing of the act the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason from disease of the mind as not to know the nature and quality of the act he so committed, or if he did know it that he did not know that he was doing what was wrong or contrary to law." His lordship asked the jury if it had been proved that at the time these conditions were fulfilled in this case? There might be abundant evidence of strong predisposition to crime. That was no excuse. He, however, left the issue in their hands.

The jury retired to consider their verdict about five minutes to five o'clock. They returned into court in little more than 10 minutes, and Stockwell, who had been removed to the cells below in the interval, was brought back, and stood unmoved at the bar during the terrible ordeal which followed.

In answer to the usual question, the foreman of the jury stated that they had found a verdict of "Guilty" against the prisoner.

Prisoner was asked if he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him ?

The answer, which was understood to be in the negative, was inaudible.

Amid breathless silence, his Lordship assumed the black cap, and, addressing the prisoner, said the jury had performed a painful duty in arriving at their verdict. It would be for the Crown to consider whether or not there were any circumstances in the case, and in his previous history, that should move the Crown to extend to him its clemency. All that he (the judge) had to do was to pass upon him the sentence of the law.

Sentence of death was then passed in the usual form, and the prisoner walked quietly down the steps from the dock to the cells below, without betraying any emotion.