Mexborough and Swinton Times, May 19, 1917
Strange Affair at Hill Top
A shocking tragedy, some circumstances of which are still in doubt, occurred on Monday evening in the little hamlet of Hill Top on the Doncaster to Sheffield main road, a mile above Conisbrough.
About 7.40 Three little girls, Millicent (Molly) Goodlad, Maud Harriman and Lillian Smith, were playing hide and seek near the gate of Mr Frank Ogley’s house, and immediately in front of Mr Ogley’s saddle room, where a double-barrelled breech loading gun in the saddle room went off, shattering a pane of the window, and the charge entered Molly Goodlad’s head killing her instantly.
Mr Ogley’s coach man, Henry Ogley (who is not related to his employer, and is better known as Stokes) was in the saddle room and it is supposed that he was cleaning the gun when it was discharged. Nothing had passed between Ogley and the children and on the face of it the affair had the appearance of a pure accident. Molly Goodlad is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Horace Goodlad of the Hilltop Hotel, which is almost immediately opposite Mr Ogley’s house and only a few yards from the scene of the tragedy.
The parents were at once notified and Ogley himself went across and told the mother of the child what had happened. He also went and told Mrs Frank Ogley, and after that he disappeared, and has not yet been traced, although the police have searched the district. It is supposed that Ogley, widower, aged 60, lodging in a cottage attached to Mr, Ogley´s farm, has fled in panic, shocked at the terrible consequences of the missile.
He is given an excellent character by his employer, and also by the people living in the neighbourhood. He is said to be a quite inoffensive man and was rather fond of children than otherwise. It is difficult to understand how the gun happened to be loaded, for Mr Ogley states that the gun, when in the saddle room and out of use, was never loaded. The gun was examined, but the empty cartridge case was not found, nor was any other cartridges or cartridge cases found in or about the saddle room.
Mr Frank Allen held the inquest at the Hilltop Hotel on Wednesday afternoon. Mr Gibson was Foreman of the jury. Mr A J Minty (superintendent) and Sgt Lewenden represented the police, and Mr Frank Ogley watched the proceedings.
The Coroner And Ogley’s Disappearance
The coroner, after briefly reciting the circumstances, said the disappearance of Ogley was particularly unfortunate, because his presence would have helped the jury considerably in their effort to clear the thing up. But because the man had not had the moral courage to appear before them and to give his evidence, that must not lead them to infer that he had committed a criminal act. They must be guided entirely by the facts. It was possible that the man was so overwhelmed by the event that he had not the pluck to face the responsibility. The circumstances appear to be consistent with an accident, though it might be found that they were also consisted with manslaughter or murder, but against that he (the coroner) must say that he did not think there was the slightest ground for supposing that Ogley regarded the child with animosity, or indeed with anything but affection; indeed so far from having any aversion to the child, he might have been so overwhelmed with grief and distress at her tragic death that he had gone away without knowing what he was doing. His absence was capable of that explanation although the evidence might show that it was capable of another
The Father´s Evidence
Horace Goodlad, licensed victualler, of Hilltop Hotel, said he was the father of Millicent Goodlad, who was aged seven. He last saw her alive on Monday afternoon at tea between four and 430. After tea she went out to play, and he did not see again until after her death. At about 7.40 he was in the tap room, when his wife came to him and said “Molly’s got shot.” He went out, but customers prevented him from going to the child saying it was no fit sight for him. He had known Henry Ogley about 20 years. He lodged in the cottage next to witness´s house. He had always been kind to witnesses child so far as witness new, andhe had never seen him anything but good tempered. He was a well conducted man
Little Girl’s Story
Maud Harriman, aged nine, said she was the daughter of Thomas Harriman, a farm labourer of Hill top, and that on Monday evening, some time after seven, she was playing with Millicent Goodlad and another girl named Lillian Smith, near Mr Ogley´s saddle room. They were playing hide and seek. Henery Ogley, who witness called “Mr Stokes”, was in the saddle room. She saw him there shortly before the gun went off, and she saw the gun on the table. She did not speak to him or indeed him to her or her companions. The gun went off and the shot went into Millicent Goodlad’s head, and she fell down on the asphalt in front of the saddle room window. Witness and Lillian Smith were frightened and ran home. Witness had known Mr Stokes about a year, and he had always been kind to her and other children .
Lillian Smith, a very small child, bore out her companion´s statement
Interviewed In the Saddle Room
John Thomas Wood, blacksmith´s striker, 1 Athelstone road, Conisbrough, said he was in the Hilltop Hotel on Monday evening, and about 7:50 he heard a shot. He thought at first that one of the farmers was shooting at the birds, but shortly Mrs Goodlad came in and said that Molly had been shot. He went out with Mrs Goodlad saw the child lying dead in the road, about 18 inches from the saddle room. She had been shot in the head, and a pane of the saddle room window was broken. He went into the saddle room and there Stokes lifted up the gun and showed in the position in which it went off. Before he did so the gun was reared against the harness cupboard. Witness asked him how it had occurred, and he said it had been an accident, adding that he was going to clean the gun, when he lifted it on the bench it exploded. Witness went to a left him. The man seemed heartbroken. Witness went across to the Hilltop Hotel, and then went back to the saddle room for a rug with which to cover the body of the child. Stokes was still there and witness said how sorry he was what had occurred. Stokes said he was sorry to but he could not explain it in any way. Witness said that Stokes was usually kind to children; he was the kind of man that children took to.
Mrs Frank Ogley said she at home on Monday evening and heard the shot, but thought something had gone wrong at the toll bar. She sent a maid out to make enquiries, but before the maid returned Ogley, who was her husband’s groom, came in looking very agitated and said, “Please ma´am I was cleaning the gun when it went off and shot Molly Goodlad and I think her face is blown off.” Witness exclaimed “Oh Stokes!” And the man then said “you had better tell somebody.” He went out, and witness thought he had gone for help, but no one had seen him since. He had worked for Mr Ogley a considerable time, about seven years and bore an excellent character. She had never known him be unkind to children, and she and Mr Ogley trusted him with the care of their own hundreds of times when the children had gone out driving. Stokes rarely used a gun; he sometimes shot Rooks with it at seed time. Witness had no reason to suspect that he had shot the child deliberately, and thought it was an accident.
PC Frank Gee, Conisbrough, said he was called to the Hilltop Hotel on Monday night at 8.40 and found there the dead body of the child Millicent Goodlad. The back of head and part of one ear had been carried away by shot. He went across the saddle room and found a gun produced on the bench under the window. There was nothing in the gun not even an empty cartridge, nor did he find any cartridges lying about. There was no one in the saddle room, and he did not see Stokes. The police had searched the district and had circulated his description, but so far without result. He had known Stokes about 18 months, and believed him to be a quiet inoffensive old fellow, about 60 years of age. Witness was on opinion that Stokes after the discharge of the gun became panic stricken and went away not knowing what to do.
Question of adjournment
The coroner said the jury were now in the hands of superintendent minty, who would determine whether the inquest might be concluded, are adjourned in order to give the police and opportunity of bringing further evidence if any were available.
Superintendent minty said he would leave the question to the coroner and jury, and added, “There is no of any further evidence unless Ogley turns up and gives evidence voluntarily”
THE CORONER´S VIEW
The coroner said what they had extracted from the evidence was pretty much what they had anticipated. Ogley had held a situation of some trust, and had been known and to some extent respected in Hilltop for 12 or 14 years. It was very unfortunate that he was not present, because he (the coroner) had very little doubt that if he had been he would have told them what he told Mrs Ogley and Mrs Goodlad, namely that it was a pure accident, for which he was very sorry; but he possibly panic stricken, had absconded, and where that he was now living or dead they could not say.
No trace of him had been found. He (the coroner) felt justified in saying again that they could not let the fact of his disappearance drive them to suppose that he had deliberately shot the child. They could ignore the fact of his disappearance if they chose, and simply deal with the evidence as if the man did not exist; consider whether there was any evidence now heard, that could be heard, which would make out a case against the man Ogley of wilfully killing the child. The whole of the evidence before them pointed in the other direction, and there did not appear any possibility of obtaining further evidence. It might be sheer desperation and dismay at having been possibly the innocent cause of the child’s death to cause a man to run away. All minds were not equally capable of bearing a shock. It was possible for them to bring in a verdict of accidental death, they might find that the child had died from gunshot wounds and yet not be satisfied as to the circumstances in which they were inflicted. Again they might consider themselves justified in bringing a verdict of manslaughter or murder against Ogley, though in that event the verdict will probably be one of murder owing to the entire absence of provocation. The jury would have first to decide whether they would adjourn or conclude their enquiry, and in the latter event them must settle upon their verdict.
An Open Verdict
The jury expressed a wish to inspect the saddle room again, and they did so. Afterwards they deliberated a few minutes in private and returned an open verdict.