William Chambers: Arrest

This is a transcription of an article about William Chambers from the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 26 September 1902. It was dictated, so apologies for any mistakes.

A tragedy at Eversholt

It is our painful duty to record a tragedy which probably surpasses in gravity any occurrence of the kind that has taken place in his county within living memory. Two lives were lost, and a third person has serious self-inflicted injuries, from which, however, it is thought that he is likely to recover. The circumstances are simple enough. The scene was a quiet roadside cottage in the rural and scattered Parish of Eversholt. Like many other Bedfordshire villages, Eversholt possesses any number of Ends. A pair of superior looking cottages, well gabled and built of white brick, with red tiled roofs, stands in a flowery garden at Water End, Eversholt, near the turn from the Steppingley road up the lane leading to the Falcon Inn which we understand is situated at Rads End. The cottage is enjoying some allotment grounds belonging to a local charity. In one of these cottages lived an old lady, by name Mrs Mary Oakley, a lifelong resident and widow, who had three or four grown up children. One of them, Mrs Emily Chambers, was the wife of William Chambers, who is described as an electrical engineer, but he appears to have been engaged in telephone work in London. Until recently they had been living physic, and it seems that he went backwards and forwards to work in London. Mrs Chambers and another sister, Mrs Hazell, was staying with her mother at the time of the sad occurrence. They were together in the house on Tuesday evening when, soon after 7 o’clock, Chambers came in with a gun, and shot at his mother in law, who was facing him as he entered, and then at his wife, who was sitting by the fireplace. Both shots took effect about the heads of the women, and inflicted such fearful injuries that Mrs Oakley must have died instantaneously, but it is thought that her daughter, Mrs Chambers, may have lived some minutes. Chambers then spoke to Mrs Hazell, and said something to the effect that he had one for her, whereupon she hastened to the next room, and shut the door upon the barrel of the gun. Ultimately letting go of the door, she ran out of the front door, screaming, and went to the adjoining cottage, which is occupied by Mrs Pepper. What Chambers did next is to some extent a matter of conjecture, but it was not long before the alarm reached the ears of the police, and a search was made for the man. PC Wood found two clots of blood and a double barrelled gun in the allotments about 400 yards from the cottage, and it was inferred that the man had attempted to commit suicide. There was an empty cartridge in the right-hand barrel of the gun. In the meantime Chambers came to the Falcon Inn, with his face badly wounded about the cheek and jaw, and, staggering into the passage, he asked for some brandy. The landlord, Mr Brinklow, replied that he thought that he had better not have any. It was known at the inn what had occurred, and Chambers was detained in conversation with some men, while Mr Brinklow went for the police. In the short time PC whinnett came and arrested Chambers, who was conveyed to Woburn, and there, after being examined by a doctor, was taken to the Cottage Hospital. We understand that his right jaw was injured but that on Wednesday the injury was not regarded as dangerous to his life. Mrs Oakley was 71 years of age, and Mrs Chambers was 35. Mr and Mrs Chambers had no children. The motives and the state of the man’s mind will no doubt, if the man lives, be the subject of enquiry in another place, but it would appear that the couple had been living on somewhat unhappy terms, and that quite lately Mrs Chambers had been to consult Mr WH Smith, solicitor, of Woburn, with a view to obtaining a separation order. It is also alleged that she had left husband before on account of his threats.

The sad event has thrown the normally peaceful village of Eversholt into great consternation, and is a shock to the whole neighbourhood, but there was not the wild excitement spoken of in some papers. It was rather a tone of deep regret and sympathy.

We learned that William Chambers was in business at Islington, London, and resided at Chapel Street, Flitwick. He and Mrs Chambers took a new house there some six or seven months ago. Chambers had make himself somewhat popular in the cricket field, and as a sportsman, and Mrs Chambers was, it appears, looked upon as a quiet approachable neighbour. The husband was in the habit of going backwards and forwards to London some three or four times a week in the interests of his business and he also followed the profession of photographer locally, for which he is credited with some skill. Mrs Chambers left home about a fortnight ago, and went to Ground Road cottage, Eversholt, the residence of her mother, where she stayed until her tragic death on Tuesday. It is stated that Chambers had sent a message asking her to return to his house, and her reply appears to have been she could not under the circumstances, he having threatened her so many times. The last seen of him at Flitwick was at about 4 PM when he left in the direction of Eversholt, with a parcel under his arm. At the back of Mrs Oakley’s house there is a small yard bounded by a low thorn hedge, with a large potato field beyond. Towards dark it is surmised that he came across this field, and stepped over the hedge.

The inquest

The inquest was held on Wednesday afternoon, before Mister Tanqueray, Call for the honour of that deal, at the Falcon in, Eversholt.

Jury: Messrs Holmes(Foreman), Lane, Pepper, Thompson, Gazeley, John Cole, James Cole, Negus, Ireland, Sherwood, Chance, Nursall.

Mrs Hazell, wife of Walter HazelL, 47, Melbury Road, Sudbury, bootmaker, said she came on a visit to her mother 10 days ago. On the 23rd September she was in her mother’s house about 7:30 in the evening, and was packing a basket preparatory to her return on the following morning, when Chambers came in with a gun and shot her mother and her sister. He came in through the back door. Her mother was facing the door, and her sister was sitting in a chair within a yard of Chambers. After shooting the two women, Chambers said to witness “Now, I’ve one for you”. Witness thereupon rushed through the door into the front room, and Chambers followed her, but she closed the door, and held the barrel of the gun as long as she could. Then she let go of the gun, ran out of the front door, and screamed “Murder”. Chambers went out the back door, and came round to the front with the intention of meeting her, she supposed, but witness went went round to Mrs Pepper’s, next door, and took refuge there. She saw no more of him, but thought she could hear him upstairs in the next house for some minutes. Her sister (Mrs Chambers) had left him a fortnight ago. They had lately lived at Flitwick, but Mrs Chambers had returned to her mother, on account of his threats. Last Monday Mrs Chambers, accompanied by her sister, went to see Mr Smith, solicitor, of Woburn, with respect to a separation order. She had left him several times, but had gone back again. Chambers was an electrical engineer: his wife was about 35 years of age and her mother 71.

Martha Pepper, living next door, said she was in her kitchen about 7:30 PM when she heard a tremendous noise, like an lamp exploding. Then she heard a fall, and rushed out of her back door, the report being repeated. The room next door was full of smoke and smelt of gunpowder, and she saw Mrs Chambers sitting on a chair, reeling as if she was falling onto the hearthrug, and saying “Oh” in a long drawn voice. She saw no more, but heard someone crying out “Murder”, and a man’s voice, and also heard a sort of scrimmaging about the room. When she went around to the front gate she nearly ran into a man with a gun, who she afterwards learnt was Chambers. She then rushed back, and found Mrs Hazell and her daughter going into her house. They begged of her to hide them up her stairs. She then went out, and sent Mr Gazeley for the police.

Joseph Brinklow, landlord of the Falcon Inn, Eversholt, said that on Tuesday evening, from about 8 to 8:30 PM, his attention was called to a man in the passage of his house, bleeding and staggering from the effects of a wound in the right eye. The man asked for brandy. Witness afterwards learned that it was Chambers, whom he had known five years ago. The man had nothing in his hands. Witness said, “I don’t think you require any brandy but stop a minute, governor, I’ll see what I can do for you.” Witness then tried to pacify the man, and with the assistance of a man named Thompson he was detained in the back premises till the police came and took charge of him.

By the foreman: witness couldn’t say whether Chambers was drunk or not.

PC Walter Wood, of Ridgmont, stated that he was on duty in Eversholt on the evening of the 23rd. About 9 PM he received information that Chambers had shot his wife and mother-in-law. He searched the allotments, and about 400 yards from the cottage found a gun (produced) covered with blood. Both barrels had been fired, and in the right hand one was an empty cartridge. There were clots of blood on the footpath, and in the ditch, which was about 100 yards from the Falcon public house.

PC B Whinnett, of Eversholt, said that he went about 7:30 on the evening in question to Mrs Oakley’s house, and found the front door open. He entered, and found Mary Oakley lying under the table in the kitchen with a wound in her neck, apparently dead. On the floor, near to the fireplace, lay Emily Chambers, with a wound in her her face, also apparently dead. He then unlocked the door and went for the doctor and inspector of police. He took the women to the next house, and on the information of a Mr Potts, went to the Falcon and arrested Chambers on a charge of murder. Chambers made no reply. Witness took him to Woburn police station, and thence, by the doctor’s orders, to the Cottage Hospital. He had found Chambers’ hat that morning just inside the allotment field.

Florence Hazel, daughter of Mrs Hazel, stated that she was in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother and Mrs Chambers. She heard footsteps, and saw Chambers come in the back door; he then fired his gun at her aunt. Witness ran out the back door into Mrs Pepper’s, where her mother joined her afterwards.

Dr Holmes, surgeon, of Woburn Sands, said he was called soon after 9 PM by the police to go to Eversholt. When he got to Woburn that he heard that the women were dead, and met the cart conveying chambers to the police station, so he stayed at Woburn to attend to him. Believing that Chambers had a good chance of recovery, he ordered him to be removed to the Cottage Hospital. Chambers was suffering from wounds in the face, evidently self inflicted. He was not in drink, and was able to ask and answer questions put to him. Witness then proceeded to Eversholt and saw the two bodies. Mary Oakley’s wound was at the side of her neck, the spine being blown right away, and death must have been instantaneous. Emily Chambers’ wound was in the face and neck, the big arteries being severed, and the right side of the neck blown away; she might have lived some minutes.

The coroner, in summing up, said that there was no doubt as to how the women died, and that the wounds were inflicted by the man chambers. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against William Chambers.

Leave a comment for publication