Conisborough Murder Case – Dead Man’s Sordid Story – Drink and Jealousy

October 1906

Mexborough and Swinton Times October 6, 1906

The Conisborough Murder Case
Dead Man’s Sordid Story
Drink and Jealousy
Prisoners Threats
Dagnall Sent for Trial

Thursday morning, the 30th of August, will still be remembered by the inhabitants of Conisborough and the surrounding district, when it was alleged that James Dagnall made a wilful attempt to murder James Dalton with a razor whilst he lay asleep in bed.

A further stage in the proceedings was seen at the Doncaster West  Riding Police Court, on Wednesday.

The magistrates were Mr JW Coulman (residing), and Messrs J.C.Coulman, W.J.Huntriss, J Diamond, TW Cocking and A Lee.

James Dagnall was again brought up on a triple charge, firstly for the wilful murder of James Dalton, secondly with the attempted murder of Annie Dalton, and thirdly with attempted suicide.

The accused was removed from the dock between two police constables, and occupied a seat behind Mr Muir Wilson. He listened to the evident intently, and seem to be quite composed. On leaving the Court he kissed his son with a smile on his face.

Mr JC McGrath, from the office of the West Riding Solicitors appeared to prosecute on behalf of the Treasury.

In opening, he said that the bench would observe that three charges were preferred against Dagnall and intimated the last charge would not be proceeded with because there was not sufficient evidence to show how prisoner inflicted the wounds. He did not intend to go into the case at length.

In the charge of the wilful murder of James Dalton of Conisborough, it appeared that the deceased man had only just come out of prison and had been serving a term of two years imprisonment. When he returned to Conisborough his wife Annie Dalton was living with the prisoner. When the deceased man afterwards went to Dagnall’s house there was some words about the relationship which existed between the prisoner and Mrs Dalton.

However the quarrel cooled down and the men afterwards appeared to be on good terms. In fact they stayed at Dagnall’s house for one night and went away the next day, and did not return until 29 August. The Bench would also be told that there was some drinking, and there was some evidence of premeditation in the way of threats and also signs of jealousy.

On the night before the murder deceased man and his wife went to bed, and left prisoner downstairs on the sofa. At about 3:30 am next morning they were told that the prisoner went upstairs, and passed the bedroom in which his lad was sleeping, and went into the bedroom where Dalton and his wife were sleeping, and afterwards caused wounds with a razor to both Dalton and his wife. There was no doubt that prisoner cut Dalton throat whilst he lay asleep in bed.

Mr Muir Wilson, who appeared on behalf of the prisoner, admitted that in this case there must be a committal.

Annie Dalton, the widow of the murdered man, then repeated the evidence given at the inquest in September 20. James Dalton, her husband was 36 years old, and they have been married 12 years. In January 1905 he was imprisoned for two years for robbery with violence, and during her husband imprisonment she lived with Dalton as housekeeper, and looked after the prisoner. Prisoner hearing that her husband was coming back, he said he would give her a week, and if she was not back in that time he would put both of them and himself “out of action.” Witness, continuing, told how her husband returned on August 24, and the quarrel which ensued between him and Dagnall. Friendliness was after shown, and drink was taken together. In fact, her husband stayed that night, and slept on the rug in the kitchen, and she occupied the sofa. Dagnall retired to his own bedroom.

Next day they went to Mexborough, and did not return to Conisborough until 28 August when she came to Dagnall for her clothes. They were still on friendly terms and again stayed all night, her and her husband occupying prisoner’s room.

The next day she went out with her husband, and returned to Dagnall’s when they all had supper together, and witness and her husband again slept in Dagnall’s room. She was woken about half past three next morning feeling a pain in her arm, and blood running from it. Dagnall was laid across the bed on her husband, and partly on her. Her husband had his right hand to his throat, and had hold of the prisoner’s throat with the other hand.

Prisoner said “I have done in, and I am going to do you.” Witness then screamed “Murder,” and Patrick McHale, who occupied the garrett with his wife and children, came down. She said, “Oh, Pat, someone’s cut me, it is James Dagnall.”

McHale then fetched a light, and afterwards went for the police. She put a bedsheet round her husband’s neck to try and stop the bleeding. She said the razor (produced) belong to James Dagnall. The hatchet, with bloodstains on the handle, was also produced; it was found under Dagnall. The prisoner when in the bedroom, had his shirt trousers, waistcoat and collar on.

Cross-examining by Miss Wilson, witness said on the day of her husband’s conviction she went to live with Dagnall, and for 12 months nothing wrong took place between them.

Mr Wilson: Saw that it was not until January 1906 that you began to cohabit together?

Witness: Yes.

You got very fond of one another? – Yes.

The prisoner often cried when he heard that your husband was coming back, because of the thought of being separated from you? – Yes.

Where and when did prisoner say he would put you “out of action?” – In his own house, about two months before the attack.

Did it make any impression on you? – No.

You did not believe it? – No.

Did you get drunk on Tuesday night, 28 August? – Yes.

Did you at the inquest say one word about the prisoner doubling his fist and grinding his teeth about your husband? Yes, sir.

I never heard it. It is not in the depositions or in the papers.

Witness, again questioned, said she could not say.

Whether you said it at the inquest or not, did prisoner say it to you? – Yes.

Both you and the prisoner lied to your husband about having slept together? – Yes.

Did your husband say that if he could prove that prisoner had anything to do with you you would make a clean job of it, and make a good bit of work for the undertaker, and the Mexborough man would not be in it? – Yes.

Did you know what the reference to the Mexborough man meant? – Yes.

Patrick McHale said he and his wife had lived at prisoner’s house since July. Prisoner had said to him, before the deceased came out of prison, that if Dalton came to his house he would fetch the “bobby” and have him turned out. The night before the attack prisoner was in the house reading a  paper; and he remarked that if he had a revolver he would shoot Dalton. He then flung the paper down with a laugh. My wife told him to “dry up,” and get ready for work. He also repeated the evidence given at the request with respect to coming down to the bedroom and finding Dagnall laid across the bed, and afterwards rousing the neighbours.

Mr Wilson: At the time prisoner made the threat about shooting Dalton, was he drunk? – He was the worst for beer.

Pressed by Mr Wilson, witness admitted that Dagnall was drunk.

When you went in July did you find that your sister and prisoner were sleeping as man and wife? – Yes, sir.

Did you ever hear Dagnall threaten Dalton? – No, not before his face.

Mr Wilson said he did not deny that his client hand did the work. He wished to shorten the proceedings.

Mr McGrath said it was imperative that he should have the full evidence on the depositions.

Mr McHale, wife of Patrick McHale, said she had lived at the prisoner’s house since July last, and on several occasions she had heard Mrs Dalton say that she would not go back to her husband, but would stay with the prisoner. Dagnall started drinking on the Saturday, and continued until Tuesday morning. She urged him to get someone else to look after the children, and try to forget Mrs Dalton, but the prisoner replied, “talk about burying my wife, it would be nothing to parting with Mrs Dalton.” On Wednesday, the night previous to the attack, the prisoner distinctly told her that he would put Dalton “to sleep” that night. At this time Mr and Mrs Dalton were not in the house. Dalton, she considered, was “full of drink,” and he had had nothing to eat. “On the morning of August 30 after the attack Dagnall asked if Dalton was dead, and she answered, “If he is, it will be a bad job for you.” Dagnall then said, “If he isn’t he ought to be.”

Cross-examined by Mr Wilson, witness knew of the relationship which had taken place between Mrs Dalton and the prisoner, but could not leave the house, owing to them being in poor circumstances.

A further question from Mr Wilson caused the witness to answer sharply, and Mr Wilson asked her not to be “cross” with him – witness: Well, I don’t like baffing.”

George Henry Smith, miner, Conisborough, said he lived a few doors away from the house in which Dagnall lived. He was called to the house on the morning of the attack by Patrick McHale, and on going upstairs he saw Dalton holding Dagnall down on the bed, and he noticed that Dalton’s throat was cut. Mrs Dalton was holding a sheet to her husband’s throat. Witness said to Dalton, “What’s up Jimmy?” and Dalton, pointed at Dagnall and said “he’s done it.” Dagnall tried to reach the razor (produced) which was covered in blood and lying on the floor. Witness placed the razor on the window sill. Prisoner was trying to get to Mrs Dalton, Patrick McHale entered the room and called out, “You mustn’t touch her, Jimmy.” When the police constable arrived Dalton pointed to prisoner and said, “he’s done it; he did it when I was asleep.”

John Dagnall (11), prisoner’s son, said that on the morning in question, about 3.30, he was in his bedroom in his father’s house, when he heard Mrs Dalton call “Murder!” Subsequently he went downstairs, and saw his father lying on the sofa.

Mr McGrath stated that the boy had made a different statement to the police, but considering his relationship to the prisoner, is evidence was allowed to pass unchallenged.

Dr Craik repeated evidence he gave at the inquest, as to being called to prisoner’s house in Park Road. He described the nature of the wounds, and remarked that it was necessary to send the two men to the hospital. Dalton was in such a serious condition that he would not have been surprised if he had died any minute. Prisoners wound, however, was not so serious.

PC Miles Thomson, stationed at Conisborough, deposed to visiting prisoners house.  Dalton said that prisoner had attacked him whilst he was asleep. Prisoner pointed to Mrs Dalton and said, “She is the cause of it all.” Prisoner was then brought to Doncaster Royal infirmary in witnesses charge. He charged Dagnall with the attempted murder of both James and Annie Dalton. Prisoner did not reply. On hearing of Dalton’s death witness again went to the infirmary on September 3. He said to the prisoner, “Dagnall, I want you to listen to what I’m going to say to you. James Dalton has died today, and I warn you that I am going to charge you, and anything you have got to say reply to the charge will be taken down in writing and given in evidence against you. I charge you with the wilful murder of James Dalton, at Conisborough, on August 30.” Prisoner reply, “I can say nowt against it now.”

PC Horton stated that he visited the prisoners house at 4 am on the date named. Prisoner said to him, “We have lived together for nearly 2 years. We were all right till he came.” Prisoner pointed to the hatchet, saying, “I did not use that.” Shortly afterwards Mrs Dalton came downstairs crying, and said, “Oh, he’s dying,” and prisoner exclaimed, “All such vermin want to die; what about me?”

Dr Willey, house surgeon at the infirmary, described the condition of Dalton upon his admission into the institution. He said he was admitted on 30 August, and died at 11 o’clock on 3 September, from septic pneumonia, following upon the wounds in the throat.

This concluded the case for the prosecution. Prisoner was then formally charged, and in a feeble voice answered that he reserved his defence.

Mr Wilson said it would be useless resisting a committal. It will be, however, his endeavour to reduce the charge from that of wilful murder to one of manslaughter. It was one of the most distressing cases he had met with during his 28 years experience. The attack seemed to be brought about very largely by drink, and possibly by jealousy. There was, however a singular feature about the case, and that was his client’s mind at the present moment was a blank as to what really did occur. All that could be done for him will be done. He had a very important application to make the bench on behalf of his client, and that was for counsel and solicitors under the Poor Prisoners Act.

Prisoner went into the witness box, and swore that he was without means and wished Mr Muir Wilson to defend him under the Act.

This was granted

The chairman then committed prisoner to take his trial at Leeds Assizes on a charge of wilful murder and attempted murder.