|A Ripper Notes Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.|
By Alan Sharp
Alan Sharp is a writer/researcher based in Edinburgh and Dublin. He is the author of London Correspondence: Jack the Ripper & The Irish Press, and is currently at work on his second book.
In her 2002 book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed, Patricia Cornwell attempted to pin not only the Whitechapel murders on the artist Walter Sickert but pretty much every unsolved murder of a woman committed in Britain while he was alive... and, indeed, at least one that was not unsolved. In chapter seventeen of the book she writes as follows:
On September 21st, Ellen Sickert wrote a letter to her brother-in-law, Dick Fisher, and said that Sickert had left England for Normandy to visit "his people," and would be gone for weeks. Sickert may have left, but not necessarily for France. The next night, Saturday, a woman was murdered in Birtley, County Durham. Jane Boatmoor,1 a twenty-six-year-old mother who was rumoured to lead a somewhat less than respectable life, was last seen alive by friends the night before, on Saturday, at eight o'clock. Her body was found the following morning, Sunday, September 23rd, in a gutter near Guston Colliery Railway.
The left side of her neck had been cut through to her vertebrae. A gash on the right side of her face had laid open her lower jaw to the bone, and her bowels protruded from her mutilated abdomen. The similarities between her murder and those in London's East End prompted Scotland Yard to send Dr. George Phillips and an inspector to meet Durham police officials. No helpful evidence was found, and for some reason, it was decided that the killer probably had committed suicide. Local people made extensive searches of the mine shafts, but no body was recovered and the crime went unsolved.
Leaving aside the fact that she appears in this to suggest that the night before Saturday was Saturday, there is very little here that is correct, save for the description of the wounds and the fact of the two London men travelling north. The woman's name is wrong, she was not a mother, and according to all in the district she lived a most respectable life. Only one mine shaft was ever searched, and the crime not only did not go unsolved, but at the last the perpetrator confessed to his guilt. It can be fairly conclusively stated, therefore, that the much maligned Mr Sickert was quite innocent of this particular crime, at least.
When accosted by Cornwell supporters, something which has thankfully become less frequent of late, I always cite this particular story as a prime example that if she can get her research so badly wrong in this particular instance, how can she possibly be trusted to have got other things right.
In the Autumn of 1888, the topic of murder was never far from the lips of the general populace throughout the length and breadth of the British Isles. In the late Summer and early Autumn of that year, three brutal murders of middle-aged prostitutes had taken place in the streets of Whitechapel in the East End of London, the beginning of the series of killings which would go down in history as the handiwork of that fiend in human form known as Jack the Ripper.
To the inhabitants of Birtley, a small mining village in County Durham, just south of Gateshead, those brutal slayings must have seemed half a world away. The local newspapers reported every gory detail, but their rural surroundings and those grimy fog-ridden back alleys of the Metropolis bore no comparison as a mode of existence. Little did they know that their world and that harsh netherworld of the capital were about to intersect in the most shocking way.
At around twenty minutes past seven on the morning of Sunday, September 23rd, 1888, a man by the name of John Fish, a boilersmith, was on his way from his home near Ouston, south of the village, to his work at Eighton Banks to the north. In doing so he would pass along a branch line of the railway which connected the various collieries in the area and which ran in a north/south direction alongside the village. As he approached within less than a hundred yards of where the track was intersected by a road running between Birtley North Side and the Vale Pit, he spotted what seemed to be a young woman, lying in a ditch that ran alongside the railway track.
The woman lay on the east side of the railway line, with her head to the north, feet to the south. She was lying on her left side, and Fish touched her on the right arm and right cheek, and from the cold touch of her skin he instantly realised that she was dead. She lay with her right arm raised to her face as if she had maybe been warding somebody off. Her left leg lay straight out, and her right was bent at the knee joint and lying on top of the left one. Her clothing was ruffled up her body on the right hand side, exposing her right leg up to the thigh. He noticed that there was blood on her underclothing, and also on her right cheek.
Acting quickly, Fish ran to the nearest house, where he left his lunchbox and work tools, and was directed to the nearby home of a local police constable, John Dodds. Dodds quickly accompanied him back to the spot where he found the woman lying exactly as Fish had described to him. He recognised her instantly as being a local woman named Jane Beadmore, who lived nearby with her mother and stepfather. He made a quick examination of the body and found that she had apparently been stabbed in three places. Two of these wounds, on the face and neck, were serious enough, but it was the third wound, a deep gash in the abdomen through which the woman's intestines were protruding, which instantly put all those who heard of it in mind of the similar wounds which had been inflicted on the unfortunate Whitechapel victims.
Dodds made a quick inspection of the area but found no clues, no footprints or sign of a struggle. He found that the ground around where the body lay had been saturated with a large quantity of blood, and that her clothes were similarly saturated. Examining her pockets he found a handkerchief with sixpence in silver in it, a pair of gloves and some toffee wrapped in paper. The presence of the coins made it obvious that robbery had not been the motive of the crime. He quickly took steps to have the body removed and transported to her stepfather's home at nearby White House Cottage.
Dodds quickly sent for Dr Walter Galloway, who lived nearby at Wrekenton, as well as for his local commanding officer, Sergeant Hutchinson, who, by coincidence, at that time was in conference with Superintendent Harrison, the senior officer of the Gateshead Division, who was visiting Birtley at that time. All three men were soon on the scene and beginning to piece together the events that had led up to the crime being committed.
Jane Beadmore was 27 years old according to her death certificate, and described as about five feet three inches in height and quite stout. She had one elder brother, Joseph, her father, a ship's carpenter, having abandoned her mother somewhere around the time of her birth, and one younger half-brother, William, by her mother's second marriage to Joseph Savage which had taken place a few years after this abandonment. She lived at White House Cottage with her mother, stepfather and half brother, the four of them living and sleeping in a single downstairs room, the attic of the cottage being used for the accommodation of pigeons.
They appear to have been a close family, as statements from both the stepfather and half brother show a great deal of affection for the girl. Indeed, she was generally known in the district by the name Jane Savage, her stepfather's surname. She had been in poor health for some time, due to a heart disease for which she had for a time been confined in the Newcastle Infirmary, and for which she was now an outpatient at Gateshead Infirmary. On the afternoon of the 22nd, she had gone to Gateshead to collect some medicine for her condition from the infirmary, and had returned to the family home about twenty minutes past two. She had then remained in the home until that evening.
Shortly before seven o'clock that evening she had left the house saying that she was going to visit a neighbour, a Mrs Dorothy Newall, at nearby Hinds Farm. In fact she first went to the nearby Mount Moor Inn where the wife of the proprietor, a Mrs Elizabeth Morris, kept a small shop on the premises, and here she bought a pennyworth of toffee, which she told Mrs Morris she intended to take with her medicine as it had a nasty taste. She then went on to the Newall's house.
She was next seen some time around or just before eight o'clock, on the Black Road, which ran between the Newall's house and the Vale Pit, the road which crossed the Ouston railway line just north of where her body had been found. Two men were travelling up this road on a cart, a labourer named Henry Brown, and a man by the name of Newark Forster. They were transporting some of Forster's furniture from Newcastle to Birtley on the cart belonging to Brown's father. They were travelling in the direction of Birtley, and said that she was walking in the opposite direction and appeared to be alone. Due to the furniture on the cart, Forster was not certain that someone could not have been on the opposite side to him and he not seen them. Brown, on the other hand, stated that he had a full view of the road from where he was sitting, and that he had seen the girl and no other person.
There was one further possible sighting that night. James Gilmore, a miner residing at Hebborn Quay, had been on his way to his aunt's house at Look-Out Cottages some time between nine and ten. He had met a man and woman walking towards him along the road. The man had been on the side of the road closest to him, but as they approached he had appeared to deliberately switch places with the girl. Gilmore had hailed them, saying "Aye aye there, mon!" but received no reply. He stated that the pair appeared to be exchanging strong words with each other. After they had passed him, he had looked back and seen them turn onto the Black Road in the direction of the railway. He described the man as being about five feet nine or ten inches tall, and the woman as fitting Beadmore's description, although it was dark and he could not swear to their identity.
This was the last that was seen of her before the discovery of the body, and once the details were published in the local and national press, with the neck and abdominal wounds being prominently described, a rumour quickly spread that the Whitechapel murderer, finding that part of the world now too hot for his bed of operations, had fled the area and moved north. The police themselves appear to have accepted this as a possibility, and Inspector Thomas Roots of the Metropolitan Police CID, together with Dr George Bagster Phillips, Divisional Surgeon for Whitechapel, who had performed the post mortem on the latest Whitechapel victim, were despatched north by train to ascertain whether or not this killing bore the hallmarks of the East End butcher.
The pair travelled overnight on Monday, and on the Tuesday morning Phillips wasted no time in visiting White House Cottage, in the company of Lieutenant Colonel White, the Chief Constable of the county, to examine the body. He later gave his opinion that the abdominal injuries in this case had been a "clumsy piece of butchery", and had shown none of the finesse and skill of the Whitechapel miscreant.2 Roots was of a similar opinion, having spent the day making enquiries in the locality in the company of P.C. Dodds and Inspector Dunn of the Durham police. A local newspaper commented:
The visit was, of course, not intended in any way to interfere with the functions of the Durham police authorities, but the idea was very prevalent in the locality that the London inspector had come to aid in the elucidation of the local tragedy, and on all hands, when the subject was discussed, there were good natured but bantering suggestions that the London police should stay at home and detect their own criminals.3
In the locality, meanwhile, the idea that this was the handiwork of the East End villain had quickly begun to lose currency, and the identity of the real culprit was quickly seized upon by both police and public.
For the previous two years Beadmore had been keeping company with a young man, five years her junior, by the name of William Waddell. The pair had evidently been sweethearts and had often been seen out walking together and acting affectionately towards each other, many times in the vicinity of the very area where her body would later be found. It had even been the common belief in the district that the pair were engaged to be wed, although this would appear not to have been the case. A few days before her death, Beadmore had been walking in Birtley with a friend named Isabella McGuinness when they had seen Waddell, and Beadmore had confessed to her friend that she wished to have no more to do with him and had "found someone nicer." She had not disclosed the identity of this other man.
Five years her junior at 22 years of age, Waddell was described as a sullen, morose individual, quite tall for the day at five feet nine or ten inches tall, with a sallow complexion, brown hair and blue eyes which were described as sunken. He was also said to have an unusual walk due to trouble with his legs, and walked always with his feet pointing outwards and his body hunched forward as if about to overbalance. His father, who was said to be of excellent character, lived at Eighton Banks together with a brother, but Waddell had left the family home and had stayed for the last eight or nine months at a lodging in Birtley named the Brickgarth and run by a widow by the name of Jane McCormack.
Originally a farm labourer by trade, he had worked for many years as a "bungey"4 at Long Acre Farm, which lay between Birtley North Side and Eighton Banks and where his father and brother had also both worked. Both of the brothers had, at one time or another, also worked for Mr John Hall, the proprietor of Birtley Cottage Farm, who also owned the White House Cottage where the Savages made their home. Hall referred to Waddell as a quiet enough fellow and stated that he "worked well when he was in the humour", but compared him unfavourably with his brother Thomas, who he stated was a "very steady hard worker."
For the previous five months Waddell had been in the employ of John McAvoy, a beer house keeper in Birtley, for whom he operated a slag-breaking machine. He had worked for him that Saturday up until one o'clock, when his work had been finished for the week. He had then left the premises but returned between two and three that afternoon to collect his wages for the week of nineteen shillings. He had appeared to be sober at that time, and had given McAvoy no indication that he would not return to work on the following Monday.
According to Mrs McCormack, he had returned to the lodging house at around four o'clock, and at that time he was quite visibly intoxicated. A few weeks earlier Waddell had exchanged his knife with another lodger at the house, Thomas Fallon, who described this knife as having a blade about three inches long and having the initials J.F., his uncle's initials, etched onto it. Another lodger, Daniel McCormick, described having seen Waddell handling this knife in the lodging house on the Thursday evening preceding the murder.
Mrs McCormack stated that Waddell had sat about the house for some hours in his drunken state. He had had nothing to eat, and had at one point been sick. This she considered to be unusual behaviour as he was usually of sober habits. He had changed his clothes and left the house at about seven o'clock, and as with his employer had given no indication that he would not be returning.
At around the same time as he was leaving his lodgings, Jane Beadmore was buying her pennyworth of toffee, and following this she went to Dorothy Newall's farm, where she sat talking with Mrs Newall. After she had been there for what Mrs Newall called a "canny bit," Waddell arrived and sat down near but apart from her. Mrs Newall described Waddell as sitting with his head down and looking sulky, although she did not believe he appeared inebriated. Beadmore was, by contrast, very cheerful and quite hearty. She offered Waddell some of her toffee, but he did not take it. He appeared to be out of breath and said this was because he had "run all the way from the hole".
At some time around eight o'clock, Beadmore announced that she must be going. She went to the door, and after she had moved off the doorstep, Waddell rose also and followed her out, without saying a word. This was shortly before Beadmore was seen on the road by Brown and Forster walking alone, at which time she would only have been a short distance from the Newall's farm. It is therefore quite possible that the reason Waddell was not with her at this time was simply that he had not caught her up.
In fact, up until this point the evidence against Waddell as the killer is merely circumstantial, and had there been nothing other than this there is every chance that Brown and Forster's evidence would have acquitted him. What essentially convicted him, both in the minds of the public and almost certainly in the view of the jury at his trial, was his actions after this time.
William Savage, Jane Beadmore's half-brother, returned to Birtley at around nine o'clock by tram from Gateshead in company of James Page and John Cook. They had to walk from the tram stop at Low Fell, and arrived at the Mount Moor Inn at about twenty past ten. The other two left him there, and Savage went into the Inn where he stayed until just after eleven when he returned home in company with another customer named Walter Lowden, who left him at his front door. He found his mother sitting up waiting for his sister to return, and after she had got him some supper he went to bed. At about twelve o'clock, she became concerned and woke her husband, Joseph Savage, and he went out to look for the girl for some considerable time, but with no luck, although White House Cottage was just two fields away from where her body was discovered.
Meanwhile Mrs McCormack had also become concerned that Waddell had failed to return to his lodgings. He did not return that night, and initially there was a report that he had been seen at Byers Green Colliery about 14 miles away at seven o'clock the following morning by a Robert Lodge, a foreman coke burner, where he had been either whetting or cleaning a large knife on the leather of his boot. However this report seems to have been erroneous as it later transpired that at this time he was in fact even further from Birtley, at the village of Corbridge.
At about ten to seven, he had approached a cartman by the name of George Taylor near a railway bridge in that village. He had asked Taylor if he could tell him where someone by the name of Waddell or Tweddle lived, and Taylor told him that there was someone of that name living in the village. Taylor described him as having a fatigued appearance, as though he had been out all night.
His flight from the village pretty much convicted him in the eyes of the locals, and a search was soon underway. His disappearance prompted many in the area to put forward the idea that he might be hiding in a nearby pit, or else have taken his life by throwing himself into one. The Vale Pit, which at this time was disused and was only in operation as an escape shaft from the Springwell Colliery, was searched by two shaftsmen using the emergency cages that were kept in operation there. Other disused shafts in the vicinity, however, would have been more difficult to examine having no operating lifting mechanisms, and it was decided to save such efforts for the time being.
Waddell, however, was very much still alive and, far from hiding out, he had fled in the direction of the Scottish border, where he was next seen in Berwick-on-Tweed on Thursday of that week, the 27th, at a second hand clothes shop in Water Lane run by a woman named Elizabeth Brodie. Waddell entered the shop at around eleven that morning and asked the owner if he could exchange the suit of clothes he was wearing for a cheaper one, telling her that shortness of money was forcing him into this position. She agreed to the proposition, paying him eight shillings for the suit and selling him the old one for three, leaving him five shillings the better for the transaction. Pleading poverty, he also managed to persuade her to give him bread, coffee and sugar to take away with him. She later said that he had given her the impression that he needed the five shillings for a train to Edinburgh.
Before he left he went into a back room and changed into the new set of clothes, and also asked Mrs Brodie if she had a peaked cap he could exchange for his round felt hat. She said that she did not and directved him to a shop owned by a Mr Ferguson on the opposite side of the road where he bought a cap for sixpence.
Later that day he appeared nearby in the town of Spittal, on the English side of the border. Waddell encountered a police constable named John Frizzle and gave a false identity for himself. He claimed to be a William Lee from Otterburn and that he worked in the town of Rothbury. Aware of the manhunt that was just then going on in the district and believing the man to be acting suspiciously, Frizzle asked him if he had ever lived in the county of Durham. Waddell replied that he had not. Frizzle noticed that, despite fitting the general description of the wanted man, Waddell had his front teeth missing, which he would have expected to have been noted in the description that was issued. He decided that he had the wrong man and directed him to the town of Ancroft, where Waddell had told him he was heading.
Waddell's flight came to an end on the following Monday morning, the 1st of October, near a town called Yetholm5 just two miles or so from Berwick on the Scottish side of the border. Rumours had been rife that week that he was in the area, and the local constable, a PC John Thompson, had been very particular about circulating information and a description around the locality.
Among those who had heard this information was a wool dealer named William Stenhouse who lived a little out of the town in a village known as Kirk Yetholm. He encountered Waddell, who was looking wild and jaded and of altogether peculiar appearance, walking on a road out of the town. Stenhouse immediately surmised that this was the man who was being sought for and quickly stopped and engaged him in conversation.
Waddell said he was a William Laws from the town of Coldstream. He said that he was heading into the hills in search of harvest work. Seeing his opportunity, Stenhouse told him that if he returned to the town with him he might be able to give him some work. On the journey Stenhouse continued to question him and asked about who he knew in Coldstream. Waddell gave the name of a farmer called Jonathon Rutherford. Stenhouse, familiar with the area from his business, knew that there was no farmer by that name in the area, and this confirmed his suspicions.
"We have had a friendly chat," he said to him, "now I have a question to ask you. Is not your name William Waddell?"
"No," Waddell replied, "you have taken me for the wrong man, I am Laws, not Waddell."
Stenhouse then asked him if he had left Birtley the previous weekend and received the reply that he had not. Nonetheless, on returning to the town he directed the man to the police station and, finding that it was empty, detained him there until PC Thompson returned.
By now Waddell was apparently confused and disoriented. Initially he continued to stick to his story of being named Laws and being from Coldstream. Thompson took him to a cell and spent an hour asking him questions, trying to trip him up. Eventually he asked him if he knew a Jane Beadmore, and he replied that he did not. He then asked him if he knew a Jane Savage. "That is my wife," he replied, "I left her on Birtley Fell on Saturday."
"Was she alive when you left her?" Thompson asked. "No, dead," was the reply. Thompson then handed his pocket book to the prisoner and asked him to write his name. The man wrote down the name William Waddell. The page on which he had written this contained also a personal note which Thompson did not want widely known, so in order to ensure there could be no doubting the evidence, he showed the note to Stenhouse as a witness, then tore that part of the page away and burned it. He then contacted the main police station in Berwick, who dispatched a Sergeant David Christie, stationed at nearby Blaydon, to convey the prisoner to them. The next day Superintendent Harrison arrived from Gateshead and conducted the prisoner by train back to the city.
By now, news of the capture had spread throughout the district, and as they travelled by the slow train from Berwick to Newcastle, people lined the track and crowded the stations along the way hoping to catch a glimpse of the prisoner. At Newcastle Station crowds attempted to get onto the platform where the train was due to arrive, but, anticipating the scene, Harrison had slipped his prisoner from the train at a smaller station in the city and had got him into a carriage and across the High Level Bridge into Gateshead. Nonetheless, when they arrived at the main police station in West Street they found again that a huge gathering had assembled, and several men had to line the way from the carriage to the charge room to keep the onlookers back as the prisoner was conducted inside.
Once inside, Harrison cautioned him as to the charge that was to be proffered against him and asked him if he understood the charge. He replied that he did, which was later reported in some newspapers as his having confessed to the crime. Following this, Sergeant Christie, who had accompanied them on the journey, officially charged him with "killing and slaying Jane Beadmore between the night of the 22nd and the morning of the 23rd September, on the waggonway at Birtley Fell, by stabbing her in the neck and abdomen." Asked again if he understood the charge against him, he once again replied "yes."
That afternoon he appeared at Gateshead County Police Court before magistrates J.M. Redmayne and Calverly Bewick and Lieutenant-Colonel White, the chief constable of the county, who were asked to remand him so that the inquest into Beadmore's death could continue and further evidence gathered. For fear of the high feeling in the district, the general public were not admitted to the court.
A local newspaper described his entry into the courthouse.
Sergeant Hutchinson of Birtley brought in the prisoner Waddle [sic] and conducted him to the dock. His appearance was most painful to witness; Sergeant Hutchinson had practically to carry him along to the prisoners' bar, and when stationed there he appeared to be in a state of collapse. His trembling limbs seemed scarcely able to support their weight. His shoulders stooped forward to an extent that made him look like a small instead of a moderately tall man, and his chin was sunk on to his chest. The prisoner was easily recognisable from the police description - particularly the second one that was issued. His face, when once seen, will be always remembered, though the only striking feature about it is the peculiarity of the eyes, except that when he talks the absence of his front teeth must be noticed. He wore the clothes in which he was captured. His expression of face is certainly not unprepossessing, though when in the "dock" he never once looked up, and his eyes never rested for more than a few moments on the same object. He persistently kept his head down. During the whole of the proceedings, which only lasted a few minutes, the prisoner rubbed together the knuckles of his closed hands, imparting to them a sort of circular motion, and this and the fact that he breathed heavily now and then were the only signs of animation that he manifested. It was certainly impossible to view him without feeling pity for the miserable state to which he had fallen.6
The remand was granted, and it was decided that he would be moved to Chester-le-Street, where he appeared at the Petty Sessional Courts the following week to be formally charged. He was represented by a Mr Edward Clark who pleaded not guilty on his behalf and, the inquest still not having been completed, he was remanded for a further eight days.
Meanwhile, at the renewed inquest, Dr Galloway had presented the results of his post-mortem examination.
There was a wound on the right side of the face made by a down stroke; a second wound on the left side, behind the ear, made by a sweeping stroke, and the force with which it would be inflicted would stun the deceased and knock her down. Neither of these wounds were mortal. There was a severe wound in the lower part of the body, inflicted, he thought, when the deceased was down; another wound, an inch or two in length into the abdominal cavity, inflicted by a knife held with a cutting edge upwards; and a third wound, within the abdominal wall, was produced by the withdrawal of the knife or instrument used. This was undoubtedly a fatal wound, and death would result in a short time. There would be no time for the screaming or struggling - not more than a minute would elapse between the infliction of the wound and death. The intestines protruded from the lower wound, but none were missing, and no attempt had been made to remove them. Death arose from internal and external hemorrhage from a wound in the lower part of the body.7
The inquest was finally concluded on October 24th when the eighteen jurymen retired to reach their verdict. Although it had been expected that they find against Waddell for the murder, they in fact returned an open verdict of "murder against person or persons unknown." It was a verdict which would give Waddell and his defence team some hope for the trial, but nonetheless the circumstantial evidence against him was tremendous.
The trial was held on Thursday November 29th in Chester-le-Street, as part of the Durham Autumn Assizes before the Hon. Sir Charles Edward Pollock, Knight, Baron of the Exchequer and Judge of Her Majesty's High Court of Justice. The prosecution opened the case with a lengthy speech setting out the entire case against Waddell, before bringing forward a string of thirty-three witnesses to delve into every aspect of the case. These included W.F.K. Stock, a chemical analyst, who testified that he had found a number of blood stains on the clothing that Waddell had sold to Mrs Brodie, and that in his opinion from a microscopic study the cells were those of human blood, possibly diluted with water. However, the defence countered this in cross-examination of the two doctors who had performed the post-mortem, who both agreed that in their opinion, human and pig blood cells were indistinguishable under a microscope.
The most damning evidence, however, came from a P.C. Thomas Sykes who had been in charge of the prisoner at Chester-le-Street Police Office. He testified that on the 8th October, in conversation with the prisoner, Waddell had asked him "what do you think I will get for this?" to which he had replied, "I do not know, you ought to know best yourself." At this, he said, Waddell had become agitated and stated "I do not know, I think I must have been out of my mind as I would not strike at a woman, much less do a thing like this, when I was in my right mind."
The defence offered no witnesses, but in his closing speech Waddell's barrister, Mr Skidmore, offered a spirited defence that the evidence against his client was purely circumstantial.
Often as he had stood there, he said, to defend men for murder, he did not recollect being engaged in a case where the life of a prisoner depended upon such a chain of weak circumstantial evidence as his friend had most fairly laid before them. When they had circumstantial evidence upon which they sought to take away a fellow creature's life, they must have it given them on testimony of which there could not be the faintest suspicion. Was that so? Mr Skidmore referred to what had happened at the coroner's inquest, where an open verdict was returned, and proceeded to deal at length with the circumstances laid before them in the evidence. The prisoner was not a drunken loafer, but a man of good character, obtaining his living in a proper way. He had been courting the deceased, had treated her kindly, had never had a harsh word with her, yet they were asked to believe that he murdered her. Where was the motive here? Even from the evidence it was probable that she went along the road alone after the prisoner left her. Even assuming prisoner was with her, and intended to murder her, would he have taken her to a spot frequented by themselves and others? The advent of a stranger was not altogether improbable.8
Nonetheless, he was unable to offer any explanation as to why Waddell had quit the town unannounced on the night of the murder, or as to why he had decided to change his clothing and give assumed names to those he met after he had left. He simply stated that it was "no part of his duty, nor was it any part of the duty of a defending counsel, to account for the movements of a man at a particular time, unless the movements themselves coupled with other testimony formed a piece of an irresistable chain."
The jury retired at five minutes past five, and took just thirty minutes to return a guilty verdict. Waddell declined to make any statement before sentence was passed. "After hearing the evidence against you in this case," the Judge announced, "and the verdict of the jury, I certainly cannot hold out any hope to you that the sentence which necessarily follows upon a crime of this character will be interfered with. I say this because I ask you most earnestly not to cling to any false hope that any change in that sentence may take place, and to occupy your thoughts and such time as is still left to you here by attending to the comfort and assistance which I have no doubt will be given you in directing your mind towards God in asking for pardon from him. To me it remains only to pass a sentence which alone the law awards to crime such as yours, that is that you be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence to a place of execution, and that you be there hanged by the neck until you shall be dead, and that your body be afterwards buried within the precincts of the prison in which you were last confined after your conviction. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul."
The execution was set for Wednesday, December 19th at Durham Gaol, with hangman James Berry the appointed executioner. On the previous Thursday the Dean of the County, Dr Lake, communicated with the prison chaplain, the Rev. G.H. Fletcher, expressing concern for the prisoner. The chaplain replied that the convict was displaying every outward sign of penitence and that in his opinion, was ready to make confession for his crimes. As a result, the Dean contacted the prison Governor to request permission visit Waddell, but the reply was that such permission could only be granted by the Home Secretary. Dr Lake immediately telegraphed and received the requisite permission, and the visit took place on the Sunday before the execution was due to be carried out.
The previous day, Waddell had received a last visit in his cell from his brother and sister, and had put his affairs in order. The following day when the Dean asked him if he would like to confess, he replied in the affirmative.
In answer to the Dean, Waddell, with an affecting display of emotion, said "Yes, sir, I did it." After a pause, the Dean remarked, "Whatever could have possessed you to commit such a crime?" Waddle in reply attributed the crime to his having been so drunk as to having entirely lost his mind. He also stated that he had been reading the accounts of the Whitechapel murders in London, and his mind must have been deranged.9
Following the Dean's visit, Waddell wrote a last letter, addressed to his brother Thomas.
Dear Brother and Sister,
I write you a few words to let you know that I am quite well at present, hoping to find you the same, and hoping that you arrived home quite safe on Saturday. Dear brother, I have just written a letter to Robert. I would like very much to know where father is, for I should like to rite to him very much, or to see him if possible. Dear brother, you must not trouble yourself too much about me, as it may be for the best. The lord knows what is best for us, so I will leave it all in His hands, for I am happy to tell you that I have made my peace with God, and if I die I know I am going to a better place where no sorrow ever comes, and I hope to meet you all there by and bye, for I can trust all to the Lord now, and He will hold me up. Dear brother, I must tell you that I am very happy now since that I gave my heart to God, and found in Him a Saviour for the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not Want. I shall not be afraid to die and leave this unhappy world, as it is nothing but a world of sin and sorrow, and there is nothing good in it. So I will now conclude, with much love to allFrom your loving brother
The execution was set to be carried out at eight on the morning of the appointed date. The prisoner was brought into the warders office after eating a good breakfast, where hangman James Berry carried out pinioning operations. At three minutes past eight they left in procession accompanied by the chaplain. Berry had calculated that a short drop would be required, and stated that Waddell had submitted most patiently, walking firmly to the scaffold and never saying a word. "The only movement I saw in him" he said, "was when I placed the cap over his face, and then I saw that he was deathly white." The chaplain administered his last words and as he said "Lord have mercy on your soul" the condemned man was heard to let out a deep sigh. Berry then awaited the signal for execution to commence, but not observing it and seeing that Waddell was beginning to faint and the minister reaching out to steady him, he drew the bolt and the drop fell. Death was instantaneous.
In some ways, Beadmore could be said to have been a victim of the Whitechapel murders. Dr. Galloway stated that it was the abdominal mutilation that was the fatal wound, and yet it seems more than likely that this had been carried out as an afterthought by Waddell, in his inebriated state attempting to make the killing resemble those of the London killer. Certainly his mention of the murders in his confession would lend support to such a theory.
William Waddell bears no comparison with Jack the Ripper. He was just a spurned lover who killed while in a drunken rage. There was no planning, no malice aforethought. It speaks volumes about the state of the nation's nervous condition at that moment in history that this murder became such a well reported news story. In truth it is a sad story of two lives wasted bringing devastation to those who loved them.
Jane Beadmore was laid to rest in Birtley Churchyard on Wednesday September 26th, the service presided over by the Rev. Arthur Watts, vice-principal of Bede College, Durham. As the coffin was lowered into the ground, he spoke to the huge crowd that had gathered to pay their final respects.
Mourners, sympathisers, pause a moment beside this open grave. A terrible deed has been done in our midst. Begun, perhaps, in anger at baffled lust; finished in malignant spite. Oh, the down slide is a swift slide. The lessons that may be taught us today should be dear to us. Burn into your memories two lessons, at least, of these that are placed before us to-day. The down slide of sin is a swift slide. Men - we whose very manhood is disgraced by this deed - we feel within our breasts that pity for the poor murderer who has a hard struggle with shame at his crime. Nevertheless, let us try and say, 'May he find mercy,' though he showed none.
1. In the index of the book she gives the name as Joan Boatmoor.
2. Irish Times, 27th September 1888
3. The Durham Chronicle and County Gazette, September 28th 1888
4. A kind of all-purpose dogsbody.
5. This town no longer exists, having been swallowed up by Berwick itself.
6. Durham Chronicle & County Gazette, Friday October 5th 1888
8. Durham Chronicle & County Gazette, November 30th 1888
9. Durham Chronicle & County Gazette, December 21st 1888
Carol Keerie, Durham Constabulary Admin Support Unit
Durham County Council Archive Department
The National Library Newspaper Library