This is a transcription of the report on the trial of William Chambers in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday 21 November 1902. It was dictated into a computer, so apologies for any mistakes.
The Assizes for the County of Bedford were opened at the Shire Hall, Bedford, on the 13th and 14th inst., before the Right Honourable Richard Everard Lord Alverstone, GCMG, Lord Chief Justice of England. In attendance were Mr WC Watson, high sheriff, Mr WG Carter Mitchell, undersheriff, and Mr Arthur Duke Coleridge, clerk of Assize.
The Eversholt tragedy
Chambers sentenced to death
The court was again crowded, and a large crowd assembled outside the Shire Hall.
Mr C Lacey Smith and Mr G Bonner, appeared for the prosecution (instructed by Mr WW Marks, on behalf of the public prosecutor), and Mr C Stimson for the defence (instructed by Messrs Piper and Piper).
Mr Lacey Smith outlined the facts of the case, which he said were of a very simple nature, and beyond dispute. The prisoner had the advantage of being defended by his friend, Mr Stimson, and The only suggestion that could be made in answer to the charge was that the prisoner was not of sound mind. So far as the prosecution had been able to make enquiries, they had discovered no evidence to support any suggestion that when prisoner committed the act he was not fully conscious of what he was doing, and not able to distinguish clearly between right and wrong. The circumstances of the case, the surrender of self-control of his passion and resentment, the deliberation with which he evidently planned and carried out the terrible act, would in the absence of particular evidence, of which there appeared to be no trace, under his worship’s direction, make it the duty of the jury to find that the prisoner was guilty of murder.
Mr William Smith, solicitor, Woburn, was the first witness called, and he repeated the evidence given before the magistrates, as to his sending a letter to the prisoner informing him that unless he made provision for the maintenance of his wife proceedings would be taken against him before the magistrates. He received that letter back, endorsed by the prisoner to the effect that he will not allow his wife a penny, and alleging that his wife had taken £15 away with her.
Gertrude Groome, wife of Edward Groome, a painter, and Mrs Ellen Ellis, both of Flitwick, detailed the circumstances of their being commissioned by the prisoner to go to Eversholt to endeavour to persuade his wife to come back to him, which they failed to do. They informed prisoner that his wife refused to come back.
Mrs Ann Hazell, Sudbury, Suffolk, sister of the prisoner’s wife, told how prisoner came into the house and shot her sister and mother, and then said he had one for her. She, however, made good her escape.
By Mr Stimson: she had not seen the prisoner since his marriage to her sister.
Mrs Pepper, who lived near Mrs Oakley at Eversholt, deposed to hearing the report of the gun, rushing into the house and seeing Mrs Chambers fall from her chair onto the hearthrug. She saw a man with a gun leaving the place.
Joseph Brinkler, the landlord of the Falcon Inn, Eversholt, told how the prisoner staggered into his house, with his face partly blown away, and asking very feebly for brandy. He communicated with the police.
PC Whinnett deposed to finding Mrs Chambers and Mrs Oakley lying on the floor in Mrs Oakley’s house. He afterwards took the prisoner into custody at the Falcon Inn, and found upon him the shot cartridges produced. He found prisoner’s hat in the allotment behind Mrs Oakley’s house.
Dr Holmes, of Woburn Sands, gave evidence as to meeting the prisoner being brought to Woburn. He had his jaw shattered, and he ordered him to be taken to the Cottage Hospital. He afterwards saw the bodies of the two women, and described the wounds which caused their death.
Cross examined: prisoner appeared quite rational when he examined him. He did not appear dazed. The wound was a serious one. Prisoner smelt slightly of spirits.
Brinkler, recalled, said he did not serve prisoner with any spirits.
PC Wood, of Ridgmont, deposed to finding the double barrelled gun produced, in the allotments, 400 yards from Mrs Oakley’s house, in a direct route to the Falcon. The left barrel was empty and the right one contained an empty cartridge. On the ground near was a large clot of blood.
Inspector Tatman spoke to visiting prisoner’s house and finding certain letters. These were all to the same effect. One said “it’s a case of mother-in-law. Mrs Ellis let no one come into the house except my sister and brother.” Another said “I have been a good husband to my wife, but she doesn’t love me. I love her, but she doesn’t love me.” “Goodbye to friends, for they are scarce.” One was to the effect that prisoner would write to the War Office about the husband of his wife’s sister, and complained that his wife had been taken away from him by her mother and sister.
Sarah Taylor, of Islington, said Chambers and his wife lived in rooms with her for about three years, and they left about May of this year. Chambers was an electrical engineer. Prisoner’s treatment of his wife was very bad. She had seen the marks of it, and his wife had run to her for protection many times. She had heard him threaten to shoot her. (Prisoner: Lie!) Witness spoke to the police about prisoner, and eventually she had to give prisoner notice to leave.
Cross examined: prisoner was of violent and uncontrollable temper, and the sort of man she would expect to do something rash when his temper was out. His wife told her that he had had influenza, and he suffered with his head sometimes. He gave way to drinking off and on all the time she knew him.
At this juncture a letter was put in by agreement, which was written by defendant to his wife on February 16, 1896. It was to the effect that he was very much upset on her leaving him, and begging her to return to him, as he could not live without her. He would be better to her that he had been, and urged her to let bygones be bygones. He had been to her solicitor and found that she had not done what she had by herself, but that her sister was in it. He was sure she would not have done it of her own accord. He would take a house for her, and give her £20 if she would come back to him. It was not true that he had misconducted himself with anyone else for the last five weeks, and he could prove it. If she did not return to him it would mean the ruin of them both. He would have a will made in her favour. The letter concluded “Goodbye and God bless you.”
Emma Osborne, landlady of the French horn, Steppingley, said the prisoner came to her house on the afternoon in question, and asked for an envelope and stamp. She supplied him and she put a letter into the envelope and addressed it to the War Office. He remarked that if anybody did him a kindness he always remembered it, and he would give them his last shilling, but if anyone did him an injury in the future he would try and do them one. He had a brown paper parcel with him which appeared to contain a gun in two pieces. He asked her to post the letter for him, as it was very important. Sometime afterwards he came to the house again, but he had not the gun with him. He had some beer, but complained that the left side of his head was hot. He said he had not been drinking, and had had nothing that day except what he had there. Ever since he had had influenza his head had gone on like that.
By Mr Stimson: he was certainly flushed on the left side of his face. He asked her to put her hand on his face to feel the heat, but she could see without that it was so.
Dr Skelding, medical officer to the Bedford prison, said he had been attending the prisoner. His actions were those of a sane man, and there were no indications of incapacity of mind or insanity.
By Mr Stimson: he saw prisoner three days after the occurrence, and he was then low in body. He had only studied insanity so far as general practitioner is concerned. He agreed that it was consistent than a partial delusion might exist depriving a person of all self-control while the other faculties might be sound. It was possible that the person might commit an act under an insane impulse, whether arising from a delusion or not, by which his self-control might be overcome, and he could not prevent himself from doing it.
By Mr Lacey Smith: during his observation of the prisoner he found no circumstances upon which he could apply that.
By his lordship: he saw no signs of mental incapacity. It was possible for a shot to affect the memory of a person.
Dr De Lisle, superintendent of the Three Counties Asylum, said he had examined the prisoner and found no evidence whatever of mental or brain disease which would account for the unconsciousness of the act which the prisoner alleged. He showed no signs of insanity.
By Mr Stimson: in answer to a letter (read), which had been sent to him by the prosecution, asking whether, at the time of the commission of the crime the prisoner was prevented by any disease affecting the mind from knowing that his act was wrong, he replied that it was a difficult matter to say, as the crime was considered two months ago. The prisoner did not show any evidence of any disease of mind that would account for his not knowing what he did.
By his lordship: during conversation the prisoner volunteered the statement that he remembered nothing about it.
Prisoner: Untrue! You asked me.
This concluded the case for the prosecution and Mr Lacey Smith, in a brief address to the jury, said it was clear on the evidence that it was their duty to find the prisoner guilty.
Mr Stimson did not call any witnesses for the defence. In the course of an eloquent appeal to the jury he said that it was clear that prisoner had caused the deaths of his wife and mother-in-law, and they had to consider whether at the time he was responsible for his actions. Judge Stevens had ruled that where an impulse to commit an act was irresistible, the person accused was entitled to be acquitted because the act was not voluntary. The evidence showed that the prisoner had a fierce love for his wife, and there was nothing to show that he had premeditated murder. Learned counsel suggested that the letters found pointed to the prisoner, after brooding over his loneliness, resolving upon suicide, and that possibly he went to Eversholt to see his wife once more, or mayhap to kill himself before her people, to show what had been brought about by his wife leaving. Standing behind the hedge at the back of the house, in order to catch a glimpse of his wife, The impulse might have come over him to kill, and he found that impulse irresistible. If that was so, for all practical purposes that man was insane at the moment. It was for the jury to decide whether under such circumstances the prisoner could be considered responsible.
His Lordship summed up at great length, pointing out that the law held where a murder had been committed the person guilty should be held to be responsible for his action at the time until the contrary was proved.
The jury retired, but returned in five minutes, with a verdict of “Guilty”.
Asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon him prisoner said: I remember nothing at all about it. That is all I have to say.
His Lordship passed sentence in the usual form, and when he had spoken the last words, “May the Lord have mercy upon your soul,” prisoner said “Thank you, sir” and left the dock without assistance.