THE PARKHAM MURDER
Murder exerts an extraordinary fascination and tales of bloodthirsty brutality litter the pages of literature down the centuries, as well as the pages of local newspapers. Small wonder then that the pages of the Bideford Gazette (BG) and the North Devon Journal (NDJ) for the summer months of July and August 1871 were full of breathless prose building to ever more elaborate tales of who said what to whom and when. This was the event of the year.
What also strikes the reader is the innocent informality of the enquiry, the inquest and the involvement of almost everyone in the village.
The BG of the 11th July 1871 reported: "On Friday morning the village of Parkham near Bideford, was aroused from its usual quietude by the discovery of what had every appearance of being a foul and bloody deed. The villagers, though unwilling to believe that a crime so shocking had been committed in their midst, became first excited, then alarmed, and within a short time, so great was the excitement, the discovery was made known by common report in all the country round. The circumstances were such as to lead to strong suspicion, and conjecture was soon at work among the gossips of the neighbourhood. But on Friday the half was not known. It was not until Saturday afternoon that the deed was fully revealed."
There is in this paragraph an immediate sense of excitement, clusters of people gathering outside the cottage of the victim, each elaborating on what was found in every gory detail.
The next paragraphs detail the finding of Anthony CLEMENTS aged 82, in an upstairs bedroom at Cross Park Cottage. He was a widower, his wife having died about a year before, and he was an army pensioner. He had sons who lived in other parts of the village and being unable to work as a labourer he was in receipt of parochial relief, although he owned both Cross Park Cottages, the other one being tenanted by Mr and Mrs Short, she "attending to his wants". It would appear that the whole world and his wife, including the reporter, had visited the scene of the crime, gone upstairs and been duly horrified by what they found. Anthony also owned "a donkey, and he was known to have some money in his possession, which he had probably accumulated from his quarterly pension." This list of his possessions makes the payment of parish relief rather odd, but perhaps by 1871 the desperately needy were fewer and more had moved into the towns to earn a living. Clearly he was not destitute and the reporter's inference is that he may have been murdered for his money.
Anthony had been missing since the 28th June, "when he was supposed to be picking gooseberries to take with him to Hartland, he was seen in the garden with a "big woman" clad in a seal-skin jacket. On the following night, a noise was heard, but no notice was taken of it. . . . The bloodhounds of justice are now in search of the murderer, and as Mr Superintendant Rousham is intent on a full and searching investigation, it is hoped that he will have a strong ally in the bosom of the criminal, where the inner witness may only be stifled for a time by overmastering passions. . . . it may happen . . . that the dark deed . . . (will have) haunted the evil doer and rendered life a perplexed agony."
"The victim was buried on Saturday evening, since which time numbers of people have visited the village in order to obtain a sight of the house, which remains padlocked and in charge of the police, and the excitement in the neighbourhood has greatly increased."
The inquest was held on Saturday by Mr J H TOLLER, the Deputy Coroner, at the New Inn, (the NDJ confirms that this is Mr ANDREWS New Inn, Parkham), where every possible space was occupied. The jury of which Mr CHING, of Goldworthy Barton was foreman, having visited the house and viewed the body - a duty the performance of which required a supply of stimulants and disinfectants, so horrid was the sight and smell - the following evidence was taken:
Mary SHORT, his neighbour and tenant was the first witness called, and she reported that on Wednesday he had come to her with a sovereign which he asked her if she could change it for silver for him "I said, No, I wish I could." Cleverly, Anthony then asks her for the loan of two shillings which she gives him. He then returns to the garden to pick gooseberries, and later William BARTLETT brings his parish pay of one shilling which he gives to Mary Short who takes it to Anthony in the garden, and he has a "big woman" she says in the garden picking gooseberries. He later comes to Mary's cottage and gives her the garden gate key and asks her to bring the donkey in and put up his shutters. Later still she says she heard him both upstairs and downstairs in his house but did not see him. There is a noise of breaking earthenware and a moan or groan. However through the thin partition wall dividing the two cottages, Mr Short sleeps on, and when she wakes him to see what he makes of this noise, he says its only passers by on the road throwing stones up at the window out of wickedness.
Samuel LEWIS of East Goldsworthy is the next witness, having been approached by Mrs Short as she became more anxious about Anthony's continued absence. He gets a "gate" and looks in through the window of Anthony's cottage, and says to Mrs Short that he fancies he sees broken earthenware and something on the bed. He sends his daughter Ellen to the house of Samuel CLEMENTS, Anthony's son.
Edward PEARCE, a miller, living at Parkham, is the next witness, and says that he too put a gate up to the window of Anthony's house on being informed on Friday morning that Anthony was dead. Unable to break in through the door, he breaks in through the window, followed by Samuel, Anthony's son.
Samuel CLEMENTS, gave evidence to say he has not seen his father for a month, but thought he had gone to Hartland on monetary affairs and where he had relatives. On Friday morning, Thomas JOLIFFE, a stone breaker, asked him if there was any news of his father, and it was shortly after that that Ellen LEWIS came to him to say that his father was dead in his bed. Only threepence in a purse was found on the body: "The money believed to be in his possession was gone."
Dr ACKLAND of Bideford gave evidence of the great wounds and four fractures of the skull which had caused Anthony's death, and said that these were "violent blows" inflicted by a "circular shaped weapon or a heavy blunt instrument."
The Coroner adjourned the enquiry until the following Saturday at Horns Cross, the jury being bound over to reappear on that day.
The NDJ of 13th July 1871, reports much the same detail as the BG, but adds that Anthony's late wife had been a "pack woman" - that is to say that she collected the gloves made by the glovers in the neighbourhood and walked with them to Torrington. The NDJ also mentions that when the purse and the threepence in it were found, they were handed to County Constable COURTENAY.
The BG of the following week, 18th July 1871, states: "Since our last issue, the air has been thick with rumours" . . . the police . . . aided by an experienced detective officer from Exeter . . . on Thursday the Superintendent assisted by two constables apprehended at Filleigh, near Southmolton, one of the persons suspected, Izet WILLIAMS, a woman well known in Bideford, not only to the public but to the police, both of the borough and the county. She is a married woman, her husband still living in the town, and when apprehended was found to be cohabiting with a navvie. "It is somewhat remarkable that her appearance before the Coroner on Saturday corresponds exactly with the description given by all who witnessed against her. She wore a sealskin jacket and a light linsey dress . . . On the day before her apprehension, she had visited several tradesmen and had made extensive purchases . . . On Saturday morning an important discovery was made, the police were making a diligent search in a wheat field near the cottages, when the occupier of the field - farmer LEE, acting on their directions . . . cutting down the hedge at the side - discovered the instrument with which the murder is supposed to have been committed. It was a heavy mason's wall hammer and although it had evidently been washed . . . several hairs corresponding with the hair on the deceased's head were found. This hammer was proved to have belonged to the old man . . . it had not been thrown into the hedge but carefully placed there and . . . imperfect footmarks leading to the spot were traceable. The hedge was used by Mrs SHORT for the purpose of drying her clothes. The key of the door was found yesterday in a ditch in front of the cottages."
"The adjourned enquiry was held at Horns Cross, and the upper room of the Coach and Horses Inn was densely crowded, as were the approaches to it, and a large number of people were congregated outside discussing the event . . . the enquiry lasted upward of six hours and so oppressive was the heat caused by the overcrowding in the room that at the close of the proceedings those who had business there were almost exhausted. The prisoner (Izet Williams) who was present, questioned several of the witnesses and appeared to treat the matter with the utmost indifference."
The first witness called was Lucy CLEMENT aged 16, daughter of John CLEMENT of Goldsworthy, and granddaughter of the deceased. She said that on her way to Parkham Mills for flour, supplied by Mr BADCOCK, she saw Mary Short and a woman coming out of her grandfather's garden wearing a dark jacket with wide buttons, and a grey linsey dress and black straw hat. Oddly she spoke neither to her grandfather nor to either of the women but tellingly, in response to a question from the prisoner, clearly identifies her as being the woman in her grandfather's garden. Her mother Ann CLEMENT is the next witness and corroborates what her daughter has said. Richard BADCOCK, the miller, also confirms the times that Lucy Clement said she was at the mill. Robert HEAL, a carpenter, living at Parkham said that he had known the deceased for 40 years and on his way to work at Alwington had called in to see him late in April. Anthony tells Robert that his (Anthony's) children have "served him very bad and had robbed him of everything" and he is thinking of making a deed of gift to give what he had "to other folks." He asked Robert if he would come back and do this for him. Robert said "I did not think it appeared honest, and I did not care to have anything to do with it after I had turned it over in my mind." Then two witnesses appear to support the prisoner's claim that she was in Bideford on the day or days in question. Robert BARROW, maltster and brewer of Bideford, said that he saw her on the bridge, Bartholomew PARKHOUSE of Union Street, said he saw her on the Quay outside the Three Tuns, and that he had been standing there with a sailor named MADGE.
Thomas LEE, the farmer of Goldsworthy in whose hedge the hammer had been found, then testified to the exact sequence of events leading up to and following his discovery of the hammer: "a formidable looking weapon has a handle about eleven inches long and is very heavy." Detective Officer William HURSON of Exeter corroborates this testimony. Dr ACKLAND told the jury that he had examined the weapon under a high powered microscope and believed the stains on the handle to be blood and the hairs on the head to be human. At that point the enquiry was adjourned until the following Friday in the National Schoolroom.
However, before the next session of the enquiry, Superintendant ROUSHAM on the evidence of the key found in the ditch and the hammer found in the hedge, both outside Cross Park Cottages, has arrested Mary SHORT and taken her to the Torrington "lock up." Izet WILLIAMS, the other accused, is already in custody.
The NDJ of the 20th July adds some serious detail to the rather more tabloid reporting of the BG. It lists the names of the jury under Mr Thomas CHING, foreman, Messrs Thomas LEE, (the farmer under whose hedge the hammer was found, and in whose ditch the key was found), George Austin HEAL, Caleb LANG, William WAKELEY, Thomas HAYWOOD, Richard JEFFREY, George HAYWOOD, James MARTIN, Daniel BLIGHT, George ANDREWS, Henry BLAKE and Michael FORD. The witness and shortly to be prisoner, Mary SHORT, is allowed to be questioned by the prisoner, as is Lucy and Ann CLEMENT because their testimony identifying Izet as the "big woman" in Anthony's garden, is crucial. The CLEMENTS stick to their stories.
Events are now at a critical stage and the third session of the enquiry, planned for the Schoolroom in Parkham, is abandoned . The two prisoners, Izet WILLIAMS and Mary SHORT, are brought from Torrington to Bideford before the county magistrates on Wednesday. "It being known that the prisoners would be brought up, the approaches of the court were crowded by persons anxious to get a sight of them; and as soon as the Town Hall was thrown open, it became densely crowded in every part." Soon after twelve the magistrates took their seats on the bench. The chairman was Capt. MOLESWORTH R.N., and with him were E U VIDAL Esq., J R T P COFFIN, Esq., and A B WREN, Esq. Mr MAXWELL the deputy chief constable of the county was also present. Present too, was Mr J A THORNE of Barnstaple, instructed by Superintendant ROUSHAM, and Mr R I BENCRAFT, of Barnstaple said he intended to watch the case for the prisoner WILLIAMS.
Mr THORNE then proceeded to outline the case to the magistrates. The earlier witnesses are examined and cross-examined and two further witnesses are called . The first is County Constable COURTENAY who is stationed at Horns Cross and tells the magistrates of his involvement with the discoveries of the key and the hammer. The next new witness is Michael FORD (also on the jury in the first two sessions of the enquiry) who, passing Mary SHORT's house just after the discoveries are made, is approached by her . "Mr Ford, they are going to take my life away, I tended on the old man like a child, I am innocent, I am innocent." The last new witness was Fanny BAKER, who said that she was the wife of William BAKER of Shallowford, in the parish of Filleigh, gardener, who worked at Earl FORTESCUE's gardens and had done for more than 20 years. Eight weeks earlier the prisoner WILLIAMS had come to Mrs BAKER looking for lodgings, she had come with William GLOVER. Her cottage was near the viaduct on the railway works and GLOVER was employed with the horses on the building of the railway. William GLOVER is now in the custody of the police, having failed to pay arrears under an affiliation order. Mrs BAKER is unshakeable in her testimony that Izet WILLIAMS was lodging with her at the alleged time of the murder and that she made dinner for William GLOVER each evening with the exception of the night of Southmolton Fair, which was the 21st June.
The magistrates now turn to the distances between Filleigh, Shallowford, and Bideford and Parkham, and although the railway at Umberleigh to Barnstaple is in use, it is still 5 miles from Shallowford to Umberleigh and the consensus is that it is simply not possible for the prisoner WILLIAMS to have travelled from Shallowford to Parkham in time to pick gooseberries in Anthony's garden, murder him later that evening, and return to Shallowford in time to prepare William GLOVER's supper.
Mr BENCRAFT now comes into his own and ridicules the testimony of Lucy CLEMENT: "she is a young girl, and has only seen the prisoner once before." Of the witness PARKHOUSE: "the levity with which he had given his evidence did not suffer his testimony to be compared with that he had produced in the prisoner's favour." But Mr THORNE rallied and when asked by the magistrates if he had any further witnesses, said that information just to hand indicated that further witnesses were available to prove that Izet WILLIAMS was in Bideford on the days in question. After due deliberation, the bench remanded the two prisoners in custody and adjourned until the following Tuesday.
The inquest now resumes at the National Schoolroom in Parkham. The custodian of the key, the Rector Mr Hensley, has decided to deny the court access until a payment of £1 has been made. And, despite protestations from the parishioners, this remains the case when the Coroner arrives, and as he is not disposed to accept the Rector's terms, the court proceeds to the clubroom of the New Inn in Parkham. This is not the first instance of a money making scheme being created on the back of the murder case. Mr TEDRAKE of Bideford, photographer, has "executed two photographs of the locus in quo of this dreadful tragedy. The beautiful art itself assures the correctness of the representations. By their aid anyone can see the contiguity of the two cottages, and realise how altogether inconceivable it is that such a deed should be perpetrated in one of them without its being known to anyone who chanced to be in the other."
This fourth session is altogether a more serious occasion. Yet more new witnesses are called. The first is Joseph MOYSE of Newhaven in Parkham who added to the other testimonies further details of Anthony's supposed visit to Hartland. Ellen DENNIS, wife of Robert DENNIS, of Buckland Brewer, farrier, next testified to say that she had lived in the cottage now occupied by the Shorts, and knew that Anthony had visited a "cousin of his", Betsy VANSTONE, in Hartland: "his errand was about a fortune that was coming to him which he could not get himself but he thought that with the help of his friends he should be able to get it." Mrs DENNIS went on to say that she had seen Mrs SHORT at her house in Buckland and wondered if she had cloth for her to make up for her child, as Mrs DENNIS was a milliner and dressmaker. But said Mrs SHORT, she had come to her house because Miss PASSMORE's shop was full. The vicar of Hartland, the Rev Thomas HOW CHOPE said that Anthony had always come to see him when visiting Hartland, and the last time he had seen him was Good Friday 1870. He understood Anthony to collect money from relatives like Betsy VANSTONE, BABB and others, in order to pursue the claim for this property from the Treasury in London. County Constable COURTENAY testified that Seth GRIGG, farmer of Goldsworthy, was the first to come to him on the 7th July at 10 in the morning with the news that Anthony lay dead in his bed. Robert HEAL was then recalled to confirm that he had measured the body and had made the coffin for its burial on the Saturday
At this point Superintendant ROUSHAM told the Coroner that he had business at the Assizes and if the inquest were adjourned again, he would not be able to appear. Thus the inquest was put off for three weeks until 15th August when the Coroner comments he hopes a swift conclusion can be achieved. However there is now a problem with the custody of the two prisoners. They are remanded until Tuesday and on that day the magistrates at the Town Hall assemble to review their remand. By some error, neither prisoner is brought from "the lock up" at Torrington, and the magistrates had to adjourn until later in the afternoon at which time the police having dispatched a conveyance to Torrington hoped to have the prisoners in the dock. They duly appeared and were remanded again until the following Saturday and returned to Torrington, much to the disappointment of the assembled crowd.
At the next hearing, some further information is given by Ellen DENNIS to the effect that when she lived next to Anthony and his wife, he being slightly deaf, she could hear through the thin partition wall, what was being said to him by his wife. County Constable COURTENAY adds to this that whilst in the upstairs bedroom where Anthony's body had been found, he had taken a small mason's hammer and applied it to a crack in the plaster of the partition wall and had found that he could see daylight through this "aperture". He did not know, he said, if air could pass through this, and if it could then so could the smell which Anthony's body had produced. There is further conjecture about the staining on a dress and jacket which the prisoner WILLIAMS admits are hers, although no evidence or proof can be found that this is blood, let alone the blood of the murdered man . There are also no credible witnesses to confirm that she was seen in Bideford on the day the murder is supposed to have taken place. Mr THORNE for the prosecution asks for a further remand so that the police may have more time to obtain further evidence. Mr BENCRAFT for the prisoners, now opposes this most vigourously. He belittles the police attempt to craft a case "of the most meagre description". Much had been made of the stains on the coat and dress, but "he should like to know what old dress or what old jacket that had been long in use would not show upon it some stains . . . or that the facts, supposing them to be facts, had any more connection with each other than Goodwin Sands and Tenterden Steeple." The only evidence connecting the prisoner WILLIAMS with Parkham is the unsupported evidence of a 16 year old. "She could not have come down from the moon, or the clouds, or have alighted in a balloon." As to the evidence of County Constable COUTENAY, and the hole he had made in the plaster of the thin partition wall: "There was no difficulty in seeing daylight even through a stone wall if you would make a hole in it which COURTENAY had taken the trouble to do." However Mr THORNE prevails with the argument that the dress must be sent to London, for chemical examination. So the prisoners are remanded yet again.
The following Saturday the court assembles again, and the Coroner sums up the case in detail for the jury. The jury then withdrew and after some twenty minutes came back with a verdict of wilful murder by person or persons unknown. On Thursday, at the magistrates court, the prisoners are duly informed of the Coroner's jury's verdict and are discharged. "Short hurried home as quickly as possible, and Williams left by train later in the day, waving her hat and handkerchief as she departed apparently in the joyous prospect of joining her navvy at Shallowford."
On the 15th August, application is made to the Home Secretary for a reward to be offered of £50 for the apprehension of the murderer. On the 29th August a further £50 is added. There is a rumour that one or more detective officers from London are in the neighbourhood endeavouring to obtain some clue to the mysterious affair. The final note concerns the sale of Anthony's goods by Mr LEE HUTCHINGS, the auctioneer, which attracted a good number of visitors anxious to see the scene of the murder. A print is uncovered called the British Workman, the subject being the man who murdered his neighbour: "a thrill of horror ran through the company." A solitary bid of 2d secured this prize. Rumours persisted, and in the middle of September the NDJ prints a correction, that as far as the paper is aware the so-called confession of the woman SHORT rumoured in Barnstaple and the confession of the woman WILLIAMS rumoured in Bideford, are quite without foundation. So the murder remained unsolved .
A postcript to this case comes in January 1879 when "on Saturday last, a farm labourer, named Samuel CLEMENTS, who was in the employ of Mrs GREAVES of Foxdown, Parkham, committed suicide by hanging himself with a rope." On the Friday he had been sent to Bideford to collect coal, on his return the coal was weighed and found to be one hundredweight, three quarters and fourteen pounds short. The "hind" to the estate Mr HOPPER returned to Bideford to make some enquiries and whilst he was away, ordered Samuel to thrash some corn in the barn. After some considerable time, no sound of thrashing being heard, one of the servants went to the barn and found the door locked from the inside. Other servants came and forced the door and although they cut Samuel down immediately, he was dead. He left a widow and three young children. He was 38 years old and said to be of "rather weak mind." He was also the grandson of the murdered Anthony CLEMENTS. Further enquiries at the inquest revealed that he had indeed left the missing coal with a neighbour and had told PC FRUDE who observed this, that he had bought the coal. This proved not to be so. This theft is alleged to have "preyed on the mind of the deceased as to prompt him to commit the rash act." Undoubtedly Samuel would have been prosecuted and probably jailed. He would have known that when he stole the coal. Suicide seems an extreme reaction to a known fact. Calling to mind the reward offered by the Home Secretary of £100 for the apprehension of the murderer, which went unclaimed, and Anthony's own words to Robert HEAL, "his children have served him very bad, and robbed him of everything", there is conjecture here that grandson Samuel, a light-fingered, weak-minded man, could have feared more from questioning than the simple fact of the missing coal, and here maybe is "the inner witness may only be stifled for a time . . . the dark deed . . . haunted the evil doer and rendered life a perplexed agony."
Brian Randell, 19 Dec 1999