Mexborough Times March 28th 1914
CHILD – MOTHER´S CRIME.
Distressing Conisbrough story.
“I did it for my mother’s sake.”
Wilful murder verdict.
Mother and sister censored
Shocking revelations were made at an inquest held at Conisbrough on Saturday, relative to the death of an unknown male child whose body was found in a sackat some disused building at Conisbrough. In connection with the affair a 15-year-old girl is in custody charged with “wilful murder” and at the inquest the coroner (Mr F. Alan) committed herfor trial at Leeds Assizes, and, at the express wish of the jury, severely censored the girl’s mother and sister, who, according to the evidence, made no preparation for the girl.
A Ghastly discovery.
The first witness called was Mrs Elizabeth Hill, 2 Castle Avenue, Conisbrough, wife of Samuel Hill, miner. She stated that on Friday afternoon, in company with a woman named Annie Wale, she went into a yard off West Street, Conisbrough. The yard was surrounded by ruined cottages, and no one actually lived there. In one corner there was a disused wash house, without a roof and with a set pot in the left-hand corner. That side of the house adjoined another yard. On the side of the set pot, near the wall, witness noticed the sack (produced). It was not tied at the top. In witness’s presence Annie Wale opened the sack and found a baby in it. They did not stop to see whether it was dead or alive. They were very frightened, and both ran down the yard, then Annie Wale went back andhad another look, and then they went for the police, meeting Sgt Lewenden on their way to the station. Both went back with the officer to the body. She did not know the girl, Minnie Scott, who was present in court.
By the jury: she went round the ruins purely out of curiosity. They never expected to find anything there.
How the body was found.
Annie Wale, single woman, 4 Brook square, Conisbrough, deposed to being in company with Mrs Hill the previous afternoon, and corroborated her evidence. Mrs Hill lifted thesack off the copper and said, “it looks like a bag of bones.” Witness said, “we´ll open it and see what it is.” She did not stop to examine the body, but dropped it exclaiming, “Oh my God. I believe it’s a child.” She went off down the yard, and then returned and examined the sack again, and found that she was right. Witness did not know the girl Scott.
By Supt Minty: She did not know the man Fred Lyons, who was present in court.
Edith Lyons, 36 Church Street, Conisbrough, wife of Frederick Lyons, miner, said she was sister of Minnie Scott, whose mother was alive and lived at 34 Church Street, next door to witness. Her father was dead. Minnie Scott was 15 years of age last December, and was born at 34 Church Street. It came to witness’s knowledge just after Christmas that the girl was in trouble.
At this juncture , Minnie Scott began to weep bitterly, and the coroner exclaimed: You need not distress yourself. Everybody will be as kind to you as they possibly can.
Continuing their evidence, Mrs Lyons said she had never asked the girl anything, and the girl had never told her anything. She did not know when the child was born or if one was born. She only knew what her mother had said three weeks the previous Friday (February 27). Witness´s mother then said that the girl was ill and that was when she presumed the child was born.
The coroner here warned witness that the police might think fit to take proceedings against for being an accessory to a certain offence, and if she thought it was in her own interest she was at liberty to decline to give evidence.
Witness: I can´t give any more evidence, I don’t know any.
The coroner: I don’t want to place you in a false position. Did you see your sister in bed?
Witness: No, I saw her on the Friday morning and she was not in bed.
Your heard my warning and you understand it? – Yes, sir.
Witness, proceeding, said she was with Minnie Scott on the Friday, and she was then going about their ordinary duties. She did not complain about being ill or make any statement.
The coroner: when you found that she had been confined, did you make any enquiries as to what had become of the child? – I did not. I had nothing to do with it.
I don’t suggest that you did, but do you mean to tell me that since 27th February you made no enquiries as to what had become of the child? – No, sir, I did not.
Has the girl made any statement to you as to who is the father of the child? – No, but I know who is to blame
How do you know that? – I know what my mother has told me.
Husband accused .
By Superintendent Minty: did you notice your sister on 27th February? – Witness: yes, but I did not ask her anything about it.
You are the mother of five children, and this girl is your sister; did you speak to her about her condition? – No .
Coming to 27th February, you say that you received information from your mother at eight o’clock in the morning that your sister was ill, what did your mother say? – She said. “That girls upset herself and it’s come to nothing in the finish.
What did you understand your mother to mean by that? – I thought she meant that she had had a miscarriage or something of that.
Did you see your sister an hour after? – Yes
What was she doing? – Washing up pots, I think.
Then she would be on her feet? – Yes.
Did you notice her – Yes,
Did you satisfy yourself that something had happened? – Yes.
Did you speak to her? – I can’t remember.
You can; what did you say? You can’t say you went in and satisfied yourself that something had happened without speaking? – I did not say anything to her.
What did you say? – I passed a remark to my mother about her looking bad.
Was your sister there at the time? – Yes.
Witness added that she had been informed that the father of the child was her husband.
Have you spoke to your sister about it? – No.
Did you speak to your husband? – Yes, I got onto him when my mother told me, but he said he had nothing to do with it.
Did you believe him? – Yes, what else could I do?
Did you ask your sister for an explanation for having made this allegation against your husband which you believe to be untrue? – No
Has your sister been away from home. lately? – Yes, for a week on the 12th. She went to stay with a friend at New Edlington.
Do you know the name? – Mr Martin.
When did she return? – This is the first I have seen of her since
Dr James Forster said he had made a post-mortem examination of the body and found it to be that of a fully developed male child, weighing 6lb 10oz. The face was congested, and there were two compressed marks round the neck as if something had been tied round it. Each depressed mark was about half an inch in width. The appearance of the lungs suggested that they had actively respired. A valve of the heart was closed indicating that the child lived up to birth. In his opinion the child lived and breathed and had a separate existence. There was no natural cause to account for death, and in his opinion death was due to strangulation.
By the jury: it’d lived either a few minutesor some hours.
By Supt Minty: the body was fresh, and he did not thinkit hadbeen dead more than four or five dayswhen heexamined it. He attended Minnie Scott in August for anaemia.
Mrs Scott´s admissions
Mrs Scott, the mother of Minnie Scott, elected to give evidence, and after being warned, said her name was Ada Scott, and she lived at 34 Church Street.
She first learned that her daughter was in trouble almost 2 months before Christmas. Minnie said if she was so Fred Lyons had been with her. Witness spoke to his wife, but said nothing to Lyons himself about it.
The Coroner: Why didn’t you say anything to him? It is a most disgraceful thing to happen if it is true.
Witness continuing, said it became obvious at Christmas time that the girl was pregnant. Witness asked her when she expected but she did not know.
The coroner: Did you not try to get to the bottom of things? Did you make any preparations? – No.
Mrs Scott said that although she had reason to think the child would be born in February, she made no preparations. Winnie went about her work in the ordinary way up to February 25th. It first came to witnesse´s knowledge that something had happened on Friday morning. She then looked “funny,” witness said to her, “what’s amiss?” What have you been doing?.” Witness did not send for the doctor.
The coroner: do you mean to tell me that although you knew of this, you did not think it necessary to send for a doctor?
Witness: I did not sir.
Did you tell anyone? – Only my own daughter.
And she apparently kept it secret? – I don’t suppose she told anyone -I don’t know.
The sack in which the body was found was produced, but witness denied that it was hers.
The coroner: do you keep hens? – Yes.
Did you notice the feathers inside the sack? – Yes.
By the jury: She told her daughter, Edith Lyons, on the 27th ult., that Minnie had been upset.
Superintendent Minty (to the witness): this is not a smiling matter; it is a serious matter. You are taking it too lightly altogether. You say you are a mother of 12 children, and make no provision at all for that poor girl? – No.
Did you report the matter to the police? – No.
Did you tell her to keep it quiet and say nothing? – No, I did not.
Did you say anything when you heard that this body had been found? – No.
I suppose you heard it talked about? – My daughter Edith told me that found a body in the next yard.
Did you report to the police about your daughter being confined? – No
Did you mention it to anybody until the police came to see you last night? – No
The Girls confession
Sgt Lewenden, stated that at 4.30 on Friday afternoon, from information received from the witness Wale, he proceeded to the disused buildings, off West Street, and in a roofless wash house he found the sack. The wash house was separated from the yard in which were situated numbers 34 and 36 Church Street by a low wall.
He found a piece of calico (produced) wrapped tightly three times round the neck of the child. It was fastened in a knot. He made enquiries and proceeded to the house of James Martin, 4 Victoria Street, New Edlington. He saw Minnie Scott there, and told her a newly born child have been found in a backyard and that he had reason to believe that she was the mother. She said you won´t hurt my mother if I’d tell the truth?” witness said. “I only want the truth”
The girl replied: on February 26. I was in the cellar of my mother’s house in West Street, Conisbrough, where the child was born. I put it in a sack and dropped it over the wall into Goodlad´s yard. The rag which was round its neck. I found in the cellar.” When charged with wilful murder she replied, “I only did it for my mother sake, to save trouble.”
Witness said he afterwards visited the girls house, and compared the piece of calico taken from the neck of the child with dress from which a similar piece had been torn off. The mother (recalled) said the garment belonged to Minnie, but denied that the piece had been torn from it.
The Summing Up.
Summing up, the coroner said they had had the whole of the evidence laid before them. He said the whole, because it was absolutely conclusive evidence, and they only had one duty, he was afraid, after they heard the few words he was going to address to them, and that was to find a verdict of wilful murder against that child of 15 years. It was a pathetic case, particularly so from the fact that the mother and sister, who should have looked after her, seemed to have done everything they could to conceal the fact, although they knew of her condition and what must have taken place.
The jury could dismiss any apprehension they might have that the girl – he did not want to harrow her feelings – would have a certain punishment. That could not be passed upon her under the children act, and she would be spared the torture of the sentence, which would not be carried out. She would – if the assizes held the same opinion as them – be sent to some home, where she would get helpful assistance and become a respectable member of society. That was a more serious crime, he continued, and must be dealt with in the way the law allowed.
It was not their business to enquire into whether Fred Lyons was the father of the child, but they knew that the mother, who had had 12 children, made no preparations for her daughter´s confinement. According to the girl´s story, she was confined in the cellar, and dropped it over the wall. The fact remains that she was confined, but nothing was noticed except in the immediate circle of her home, who, on their own admission,had no intentions of telling anyone.
The girl told the police that she got the rag which was found around the child’s neck from the cellar. That was not proof that she tied the rag round it, but it would not be straining common sense to say that she had. They were driven to the conclusion that the child was born alive, and that at some period, between one and five hours, it had a separate existence from its mother. He (the coroner) thought it was a legitimate inferance that the girl tied the rag round the child’s neck.
There was one of the matter to which he ought to draw their attention. He wanted to warn them that, whatever they might think, they must not go one inch further than the evidence warranted. There were two offences in connection with murder – to be an accessory before the fact or an accessory after the fact. It was for the jury to say if either of those parties (the sister and the mother) came within that category. There was still another offence with which they might be charged, but that was not a matter for that court. The jury has heard their evidence, and their statement was that they did not know the child had been delivered of a live child. If they thought, on that evidence, that those people did know murder had been committed, and they were covering up evidence and trying to enable that girl to escape the consequences of crime, it was for them to find that in their verdict.
One thing that struckme very forcibly, and it had a hearing on the guilty knowledge of those persons, and that was where the child was found. Dr Foster said he was surprised to find a baby in such a fresh condition, but he thought they were prepared to admit that,with regard to the cold weather, it was not impossible that the child was born on or around February 26th. When they considered whether any of those parties knew whether that girl had killedher child, they had to consider where the body was found. It impressed itself very forcibly on him (the coroner)that ifMrs Scott had known that the girl killedher child and had done what she had done, it was very unlikely it would remain there for threewhole weeks. It seemed to him that these people, in their own interests, if they knew that the body had been dropped over the wall, would have made some attempt to cover it up or dispose of it.
Continuing, the coroner said that if they brought in a verdict of “wilful murder,” it was likely that the girl would be sent to a home, where she would be better looked after and in the company of those people.
After an absence of about 15 minutes the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against the girl,Minnie Scott, and were unanimously of the opinion that MrsLyons should be censored, and the mother (Mrs Scott) severely censored.
Sympathy and censure.
Addressing the girl, the coroner said: “you will be taken from this court to a place at Barnsley, and then you will take your trial at Leeds assizes. You are only a child, and I think the feeling of everyone here is one of sympathy with you. I feel you are only a child, and must be judged as a child. I may express thehope that, this dreadful experience notwithstanding, you will grow to be a useful member of and a credit to society.”
Addressing the women, he said: “I agree with what the jury have said, theyhave returned a true and proper verdict. The evidence did not warrant me in saying definitely that they would be justified in saying that either of you were accessories before or after the fact. That must be a matter for your own consciences. They can be no doubt that you did know something of this sort had happened. You are married women, and mothers yourself, and upon you rests the full responsibility for this tragic happening. It is not for me to express the hope that what has happened today may be a lesson and guidance to you in the future, but you had been guilty of a crime against all the demands of society, and you stand convicted by a jury of your fellow men of a gross dereliction of duty, and you ought to feel that upon you rests the entire blame for the position in which this unfortunate child finds herself today. You had duties to the child, which were not performed by shutting your eyes to the fact that she had been with some man who does not come before the court today, and you stood by and did not take the ordinary precautions.
I think the juryhave done their duty, and their verdict is a true and proper one, you have sinned grievously against society as we know it, and particularly against his sister and daughter of yours.”
The enquiry lasted over three hours.