Murder & Suicide in Great Waldingfield

Great-Waldingfield-SignWhen Joshua Bowers left for work in March 1881, he did not expect to be summoned home to be told that his second wife had taken her life and murdered two of their children.  The day began like any other with Joshua walking to the farm of J Walter Hills where he was employed as a horseman. Around midday he was called back to the village to be told the awful news.

Born in Great Waldingfield, Suffolk in 1836, Joshua was the son of Peter Bowers, an agricultural labourer. He married his first wife, Emma Bird in 1859 and they moved to Upsher Green a small hamlet of red brick houses just outside the village. Their first child Henry Bird Bowers was born in 1859 and his brother Phillip Edmund Bowers followed shortly after in 1861. In 1863 Emma gave birth to her third and last child Elizabeth Sarah Bowers. The little girl died after a week and was buried on 24th March 1863. A week later Emma also died aged just 24 years.

With two small children to take care of, Joshua did not spend long looking for another partner and by May of 1864 he had married Susannah King, another resident of Great Waldingfield.

Their union produced six children, two boys and four girls. They lived together with the sons from Joshua’s previous marriage. Susannah’s health had been poor since the birth of her daughter Laura in 1880. She was both weak in body and prone to severe bouts of depression which, if treated today, might be diagnosed as post natal depression.

On Saturday 26th March 1881, Joshua Bowers left the house at about 9 o’clock to go to work. He was joined by his sons while his four daughters stayed at home with his wife. She had been complaining of a pain in her head and was lying upstairs in bed when he left.

The previous month, Susannah voluntarily admitted herself to St Leonard’s hospital in Sudbury. She had only recently come home. Her mother, Sarah King had cared for her since her return. Sarah was at the house that morning but left to collect her parochial relief just after Joshua departed. Susannah remained upstairs with the three younger girls while the eldest Elizabeth aged 13, scrubbed the floor downstairs.

Shortly after her grandmother left, Elizabeth was interrupted by her sister, 7 year old Ruth. Susannah had asked Ruth to fetch a razor to trim her corns. Elizabeth refused to let her younger sister have the razor so her mother came downstairs to collect it herself. Unconcerned, Elizabeth carried on with her chores. Moments later she heard a piercing scream coming from the upstairs bedroom.

She rushed upstairs to see two of her sisters covered in blood with their throats cut. Her mother was standing over the baby with the open razor, ready to cut its throat. Elizabeth tried to take the razor from her mother and her hands were badly cut in the struggle. She pleaded with her mother to stop but Susannah just said “Leave me alone, Lizzie”. Then she cut the throat of Laura, the youngest child. She turned towards Elizabeth who jumped from the top to the bottom of the stairs in fright.

Elizabeth’s screams alerted the next door neighbour, Mrs Carter, who ran upstairs and into the bedroom where she saw the three children with their throats cut. Susannah Bowers was still alive and walked towards Mrs Carter with her arms outstretched. Mrs Carter ran downstairs as fast as she could and ran straight into the path of another neighbour, Thomas Day, a beer house keeper.

By the time Day arrived upstairs, Susannah Bowers had cut her own throat and was dead on the bed beside her children.

Although two of the children were lifeless, Ruth Bowers was still mobile and required urgent medical attention. Mr Joseph Horsford, a surgeon of Long Melford was called and he tended to Ruth who was eventually saved. Nothing could be done for the other children who had died quickly. Susannah had cut both the trachea and jugular veins of baby Laura so her death was virtually instantaneous. The left hand jugular vein of four year old Emily was still intact so she may have lived for two or three minutes.

An inquest was held on Monday 28th March 1881 at Thomas Day’s Beer house in Great Waldingfield. It ruled the deaths of the children as “wilful murder by the mother”. A second inquest was held immediately afterwards in front of the same jury to decide on the cause of death for Susannah Bowers. The jury returned a verdict of “Temporary insanity”.

By the time of the 1881 census on 3rd April 1881, the surviving members of the family were living apart. Joshua was still living in the same cottage at Upsher Green with his eldest son Henry and his injured daughter Ruth. The other three remaining children from his marriage to Susannah King were staying with different relatives within the village. Elizabeth, who had been so brave during both the killings and as principle witness at the inquest, was living with her Uncle James Bird and Aunt Mary (nee Bowers).

On the night of the census, Phillip Edmund Bowers, second eldest son of Joshua from his marriage to Emma Bird was living with his grandparents George and Elizabeth Bird. His aunt, recently widowed Anna Maria Gallant, was also staying with her parents George and Elizabeth. Once again Joshua Bowers selected a new partner quickly and by May 1882 Anna Maria had given birth to the first of five children that she had by Joshua. Registered in the 1891 & 1901 census as his housekeeper they applied to the local vicar to marry. Under the 1835 Marriage Act it was against the law for a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister so the vicar refused the marriage and entered his decision into the parish records where it can be read today.

Joshua and Anna Maria lived together as man and wife until her death in 1902. He died in 1914 at the age of 78. Frances Ruth Bower survived her ordeal and married John Butcher in 1893. She died in 1958 at the ripe old age of 85 despite her earlier trauma. For Elizabeth Bowers, the memory of the loss of her mother and two younger sisters never left her. In 1888 she married Albert Edmund Day at Great Waldingfield. Her eldest daughter was born shortly after. She was christened Emily Laura Susannah Day.

To find out more about about this family, follow the link below

Joshua Bowers

English Murder Mysteries

Agatha ChristieChecking through my Goodreads books yesterday, I realised how deeply entrenched my book tastes have become.  Everything I enjoy most is set in England and involves a good old-fashioned murder, preferably not too graphic.  Not surprising really since I was bought up on a diet of Agatha Christie & P G Wodehouse.

This intransigent reading habit was one of several reasons I joined a book club.  I thought it would be good to expose myself to other genres.  In the last six months I have read A history of Lonliness, The Cellist of Sarajevo, Rebecca, The Life of a Banana, Tuesdays with Morrie and The Boy that Never was.  And a depressing bunch of books they are, let me tell you.  Rebecca is the shining star amongst them (although I enjoyed The Cellist of Sarajevo).  But if there’s one thing I have learned from the book club experience, it’s that I like what I like.  It may not be highbrow literature, it’s not Booker prize winning stuff, but the books I love have a beginning, a middle and an end – and above all else, they have a plot!

So it’s English murder mysteries all the way for me, particularly anything with a family history or genealogical twist.  My top six of all time, in no particular order, are:

Agatha Christie – Crooked House

Robert Goddard – Past Caring

Val McDermid – The Wire in the Blood

Susan Hill – The Various Haunts of Men

James Ruddick – Death at the Priory

Dan Waddell – The Blood Detective

I’m sure there are many deserving English murder mysteries that should be on the list.  There are several up and coming genealogy writers (Nathan Dylan Goodwin springs to mind) and some debut authors (Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train) who have captured my attention.  Who are the best all time English murder mystery writers?  Your suggestions would be appreciated.

Double booking for the hangman….

NooseDuring my research for Vote for Murder, I came across the following extract  in a letter from P Jones to his friend and cousin Major Jones in which he mentioned murderess Mary Emily Cage, my inspiration for the book.  The letter entitled,  The brutality and cruelty of the British people , describes several British murders during 1851 including two Suffolk murders & the Chelmsford poisoning.  He claims that “such occurrences are seldom or never heard of in our southern states”.

A HIGH-SHERIFF IN DIFFICULTY; OR, A HANGMAN WANTED

“It will no doubt be in the recollection of many persons that the High Sheriff of Suffolk, in March last, was placed in no very pleasant position in consequence of the services of a hangman not being obtainable to carry into execution the last sentence of the law upon Maria Clarke, for the murder of her illegitimate child, by burying it alive in the parish of Wingfield. The high-sheriff, however, on that occasion, was spared an unpleasant duty by a reprieve coming down for the condemned woman two days before that on which her execution was to have taken place. At the assizes held at Ipswich, on the 2d inst., Maria Emily Cage was found guilty of the murder of her husband, James Cage, at Stonham Aspel, by administering to him a certain quantity of arsenic. Her execution was ordered to take place on Saturday (Aug. 16), in front of the Ipswich county jail, but the same difficulty was again presented as in March. Calcraft, the hangman, on being applied to, could not attend, as he had promised to perform a similar office the same morning at Norwich. An application was next made to the hangman at Warwick jail, but that functionary could not attend, as he would be similarly engaged at Shrewsbury on that day. A messenger was then despatched to the Secretary of State’s office, who explained the unpleasant position in which the high-sheriff of Suffolk was placed, and requested that the execution of Mary Emily Cage might be postponed. The answer from the Secretary of State was to the effect that no alteration as to the day named could be made; thus leaving the high-sheriff to get out of the difficulty in the best way he could. To have had the law carried into effect on Saturday would, in all probability, have been repugnant to the feelings of the high-sheriff, for, as no person could be found to supply the place of Calcraft, the high-sheriff must have performed the horrid duty himself. To avoid doing that, the high-sheriff has, on his own responsibility, ordered the execution to be delayed until an early day in the ensuing week. The condemned woman’s demeanor is becoming her awful position. She appears to be resigned to her fate, but protests that she is innocent. The unpleasant position of the high-sheriff, not only on this but on a former occasion, may be attributed to the usual course not being adopted—the making sure that Calcraft can attend before any day be appointed for the execution.”— The Times, August 17th, 1851.

It must have been rare for an execution to be delayed for want of an executioner, but there were an unusually high volume of death sentences that year.  Somewhere in the region of 50 death sentences were handed out in 1851, resulting in the public hanging of 3 women. Despite the delay recorded above, Mary Cage was ultimately executed by William Calcraft – the longest serving executioner.  Calcraft executed approximately 450 people,  34 of whom were women.

Five Star Reviews

It’s always lovely to log onto Amazon and find a new review, and even better if it’s a five star review. I am grateful for each and every review, believing that any writer can learn something from a reader’s comments, be they good, bad or indifferent. In this case I was especially pleased to receive the following accolade, not just because my reader enjoyed the book, but also because she acknowledged the relatively unusual story telling technique:

“This book is brilliant – a real page turner!
It was fascinating to see how women were treated in the different times. You can’t believe how unfair some women’s lives were through no fault of their own and you find yourself feeling sympathy for a really unsympathetic character which is an amazing achievement for the author.
I especially enjoyed the information at the end of the book and the story of how it came to be written – a twist I have never come across before.”

Many books combine fact and fiction; many combine stories set in different time periods.  I have often read books combining different genres – but Vote for Murder is unusual in that it does all of that, at the same time as being inspired by real characters from my own family history.  The kindle version of Vote for Murder links to a real family tree and a website with articles relating to the true crime contained within the book.  This will be updated in the future.

So Vote for Murder is a work of faction in the historical fiction and true crime genres, set in Victorian and Edwardian England with family saga & genealogical overtones, based on my own family history!  Quite a mix.  Does it work?  I will be watching future reviews with interest…..Mary Cage Updated tree

Mary Emily Cage – Murderess or victim?

Front cover snipOn 23rd March 1851, James Cage took his last breath, poisoned to death by his wife, Mary.  The Press were quick to report on the murder and  before long produced damning reports of Mary and her ‘depraved’ character, as evidenced in the extract from the 9 August 1851 Norfolk Chronicle, below:

“It will be remembered that just before the last Assizes, Mary Emily Cage, at Stonham, was examined on a charge of murdering her husband, by poisoning him.  The case was remanded until the Summer Assize, and at half-past eight o’clock on Saturday last, the wretched woman was placed at the bar to take her trial for the offence.  She exhibited little alteration in her appearance.  It is not our intention to lift the veil from the domestic history of this woman, any further than the trial itself removed it, for unfortunately there is not a feature in it that is not degrading to our common humanity. – Messrs. Power and Mills prosecuted; Mr. W. Cooper defended.

The case presented features of great depravity.  The deceased was an agricultural labourer, and with his wife, the prisoner, lived at Stonham Aspal.  They had a family of seventeen children, but one of them, now a lad of twenty years of age, was not the result of wedlock.  The deceased was imprisoned twelve months, and during his incarceration she cohabited with another man, and the result was the birth of the boy.  During the last eighteen months, she left her husband not less than three times, and exposed her daughter, sixteen years of age, to be debauched.  In other respects she led a very dissolute and depraved life…”

Vote for Murder” is a murder mystery based on Mary’s life . It takes a more sympathetic view of her behaviour than the Victorian press, taking into account the abject poverty in which she found herself.  The murder of James Cage contrasts with the second (fictional) murder set in a comfortable, middle-class household close to Christchurch Park in Ipswich.  Both lead female characters are headstrong; Mary determined to behave as she sees fit despite the social conventions of the time and Louisa, a suffragist campaigning for the right of women to vote.

Vote for Murder is a work of ‘faction’, where historical fact meets fiction.  From the first moment I read the Mary Cage story many years ago, the circumstances of the crime did not ‘feel’ as black & white as the press implied.  Vote For Murder is my fictional interpretation of Mary’s life and times.

Vote for Murder is now available through the Amazon Kindle Store http://tinyurl.com/pbpzehr

Vote For Murder – Sample Extract

“Alfred said he was afraid of this but continued without preamble stating that Mary had been found guilty of murder by poison and would die within a week. There was nothing that could prevent her execution, so any renewal of our friendship would inevitably be of short and painful duration.”

Extract from the diary of Anna Tomkins, August 1851

A short excerpt from Vote for Murder is available here

VIntage  Apothecary Bottle

Vote For Murder – Available Now

Front cover snipIn the Spring of 1911, suffragist Louisa Russell finds an old diary in a box of artefacts, while attending a census evasion night at the Old Museum in Ipswich. The diary recounts the last days of Mary Emily Cage, executed for the murder of her husband six decades earlier.

When Louisa’s next door neighbour, Charles Drummond, dies under suspicious circumstances, the parallels between the two deaths become impossible to ignore.  But can two deaths sixty years apart be linked?  And can Louisa find the poisoner before an innocent woman is convicted?

Vote for murder is based on a real poisoning by Suffolk murderess, Mary Cage.  Set in Ipswich in 1911, the novel brings together suffragism in the early 1900’s and a grisly, Victorian murder. Vote for Murder will appeal to readers of historical fiction, genealogical mysteries and Suffolk based crime books.

Available in the Amazon Kindle store now http://tinyurl.com/pbpzehr and will follow in paperback shortly.