Outrage at Conisboro’ – ‘Wilful Murder’ Against Dagnall – (picture)

September 1906

Mexborough and Swinton Times, September 15th 1906

The Conisborough Tragedy.
Adjourned Inquest.
‘Wilful Murder’ Against Dagnall.


The serious developments that came with the death of Dalton in the Doncaster Infirmary, coupled with the fact that Dagnall, his assailant, is slowly recovering from his self-inflicted injuries, brought the Conisborough sensation into further public prominence. The story is almost too sordid for words. That the motive of the crime was jealousy appears to be beyond doubt. Dagnall, who had cohabited with Dalton’s wife, during the imprisonment of Dalton, viewing the return of the latter with bitter feelings, which culminated in the murderous bedroom attack in the early hours of that fatal morning. Dagnall, who has seen army service abroad, said to be quiet and inoffensive when sober, but very excited when under the influence of drink.

When admitted to the hospital Dalton’s condition was so serious that his depositions were taken. The words of the dying man were as follows: –

‘I am a bookmaker, residing at Mexboro’. I have been at Wakefield prison serving a sentence of imprisonment for the past two years, and I returned to Mexboro’ on Friday last, August 24th, 1906, and found the man James Dagnall, and my wife, Annie Dalton, living at a house in Dayland Terrace, Park road, Conisboro’, and I stayed there on Friday night. On Saturday, the 25th August, I got lodging at Mexboro’, and stayed there until last night, Wednesday, August 29th, when I went back to Conisboro’ to fetch my clothes from the house where my wife and Dagnall were living.

I got there about six in the evening, roughly speaking, and my wife went with me, and Dagnall was then there. I stayed in and we had a drink in the house, and everything was quiet and peaceable. We were all there drinking. Teresa McHale (my wife’s brother’s wife) was in, and neighbours kept popping in and out. We had three or four quarts of beer, and all four of us drank from it, as well as the neighbours who came in. Nobody was drunk, nor was there any quarrelling. We were drinking in the kitchen.

My wife and I went to bed about eleven o’clock, leaving Dagnall on the sofa downstairs alone. He said, ‘Good night,’ and we were on friendly terms. I then went to sleep, but at 3 o’clock or 3-30 this morning (August 30th), I was awakened by Dagnall in the room. I said, ‘What brings you here? He said, ‘I’ve come to finish you, and he then struck me with a hatchet as I lay in bed. I was on the side of the bed nearest to him. It was then getting light. I warded off the blow with my arm and then grappled. I think he must have struck me before I woke, because when I grappled with him I found my throat was bleeding from a wound there. That was the first time I noticed the wound. We went on to the bed and I was on top of him, and I held him there until some men came in.

My wife shouted ‘Murder!’ and ‘Police!’ and a few minutes afterwards the men came in. He did not strike me again. I saw a razor on the floor as I held him on the bed. The hatchet was one of 18 inches in the handle and about six or eight pounds weight. The razor was one with a black shaft, and was prisoner’s. I used it myself to shave me on Saturday last. When the men came in I collapsed. I was conscious and lay on the bed until the police and the doctor came. The doctor bandaged my throat. I do not know what wounds there were in it. I was then brought to Doncaster Infirmary, where I made this statement, and I have since been attended by Dr. Willey, the house surgeon.

I had no quarrel with Dagnall from the time I returned from Wakefield until what happened. I was not properly sober when I went to bed, but I wasn’t drunk. The wife was about the same as I was. Dagnall knew what he was doing, but had had some drink. I was able to talk to a certain extent when I woke and found Dagnall in the room. I think the razor dropped out of his hand when I had him on the bed. He said when we went to bed that he was going to sleep on the sofa. I did not see him strike my wife at all. I don’t know how she got out, whether in the scrimmage or not. She did not get hold of Dagnall. Dagnall had his trousers, shirt, and waistcoat on, but no boots.

Gross-examined by Dagnall: I think I got to Conisboro’ last night about five o’clock, and from that time we were drinking together on the house.

Re-examined: I wanted to live at Mexboro. That is why I wanted to take the clothes last night. We stayed at Dagnall’s house at Conisboro’ (my wife and I) on Friday night last, but she went with me to Mexboro’ on Saturday, the 25th, and had been living with me there until last night.

Dalton signed these depositions, which were taken in the presence of Mr. J. W. Hodgson, J.P., Mr. Wm. Rockett, Clerk to the West Riding Justices; Supt. Hicks, Dr. R. Willey, house surgeon; Mr. Ernest Wm. Pettifer, clerk at the West Riding Offices, and P.c. Thompson.

The inquest, it will be remembered, was opened a fortnight ago, when only evidence of identification was given by the widow of deceased, Annie Dalton, and adjournment being made to allow of the appearance of Dagnall, who, at that time, was too ill to attend.

Mr. J. G. Nicholson, deputy coroner for the borough, resumed the inquiry at the Guild Hall on Thursday morning.

Supt. Hickes, of the West Riding Constabulary was present.

Mr. Muir Wilson was also present, representing Dagnall, who is still a patient at the Infirmary.

Dagnall sat in perfect silence during the inquiry, and looked very pale, being in a weak state, not yet having discarded the bandages round his neck. He was in the custody of Sergeant Sowray.

Annie Dalton was the first witness, and she gave her evidence in a quiet and composed manner. She said she was the widow of deceased, who was a miner, and was 35 years old. They had been married about 12 years, and had lived at Conisboro’ and Denaby. She remembered him having an accident in October, 1904, breaking his leg. He was kept in the hospital some time. She said about that time she went to act as housekeeper to James Dagnall at New Conisboro’ and afterwards at Conisboro.’ She acted as housekeeper up to her husband’s return on the 24th August. After her husband came out of the hospital he was apprehended, and in January, 1905, he was sentenced at Sheffield to two years’ imprisonment. James Dagnall was a widower, and had four children. She acted as housekeeper and looked after the children. He told her that if she went away with her husband he would put her out of ‘mese,’ meaning out of action.

Your husband returned on the 24th Aug.? -Yes

Continuing, witness said her husband came to the house where she was living with Dagnall in Park road. James Dagnall was laid on the sofa in his pit muck, asleep, with his shirt over his head. He went up to Dagnall and snatched the shirt off his head: saying ‘Get up, you dirty –— nondescript.’ Dagnall then got up and put on his shoes. Her husband then asked Dagnall ‘what he knew wrong about his wife?’ Dagnall answered, and said he knew ‘nothing wrong about her.’ He then called Dagnall’s mother and sisters all the dirty things he could call them. The Coroner: Did they cool down after that? – Witness: Yes, sir.

Did any more altercations take place? – No, sir.

A Juror: What time did your husband return home? – Witness: It would be about five o’clock.

Witness, continuing, said that Dalton afterwards asserted that he was very sorry for what he had said, and he pulled a ‘noggin’ of brandy out of his pocket, and asked them to drink. She was the only one that would drink with her husband. Her husband stayed there that night. Only Dagnall went upstairs tp bed. She slept on the sofa and her husband slept on the rug in the same room. Dagnall went to work the next day. When he came back from work, Dagnall said he could not let Dalton stay there. He was going to get lodgings somewhere else.

On Saturday night both her and her husband went to Mexboro’, but not together. They got lodgings at Mexboro’, and stopped there until Tuesday, the 20th August, when they went to Conisboro’ to Dagnall’s house for her clothes. They all met on the best of terms, and stopped there all night. She and her husband occupied James Dagnall’s room. She spent the whole of the next day there until about five o’clock, when she went out with her husband. They returned about 9-45 p.m. When they went out Dagnall was in the house, laid on the sofa. On returning they all had supper together. They went to bed between 10-30 p.m. and 11 o’clock. She asked Dagnall if he would sleep with Dagnall’s children. Her husband said he would rather stop downstairs, but it ended in her husband going to bed with her. Dagnall said he was not going to work the next morning, and he would stop downstairs. When they went to bed she took a paraffin lamp with her, and left the gas burning downstairs.

The Coroner: When did you awake? – Witness: I felt some blood running down my arm, but I did not know where I was cut. She cried out, ‘Oh! Dear, whose doing this?’ She then screamed ‘Murder!’ and said someone was cutting her; it was ‘Jimmy Deg.’ She tried to get up, but Dagnall was holding her down. He was laid across her husband, across the bed. She shouted for help, and her brother, Patrick McHale, who was sleeping in the garret with his wife and family.

The Coroner: Does McHale also lodge at Dagnall’s? – Witness: Yes, sir.

Witness, continuing, said that when her brother (McHale) came down into their room, she cried out, ‘Oh Pat, someone’s got me; it is Jimmy Deg.’ Her brother went downstairs to fetch the light, and on returning she saw that her husband’s head was nearly cut off. When they retired to rest the lamp was on the floor against a big box. McHale after bringing the lamp went and roused the neighbours. There was a great deal of blood about the bed. Dalton was lying on his back, and had hold of Dagnall, who was lying across the bed, by the mouth, trying to push him off. At this stage McHale returned with a man named George Henry Smith. He was the first man who came into the room. Smith stayed there until a police-constable came.

The Coroner: Did you see a razor at all? – Witness: No, sir; I did not.

You are sure about that? – Yes, sir.

Mrs. Dalton, giving further evidence, said the officer came up and asked who had done it? Dalton then pointed to Dagnall, and said he had done it whilst he was asleep. The police-constable then took Dagnall downstairs, and Dalton said to her. ‘He tried to do you as well as he could.’ The doctor was then sent for.

Witness, cross-examined by Mr. Muir Wilson, said she had known Dagnall all her life. She knew he had served in the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Light Infantry, both in India and the Cape.

Mr. Wilson: when your husband got Dagnall two years what was it for? – Witness: Assault on the police and burglary.

Whilst your husband was away, Dagnall had got very fond of you? – Yes, sir.

Did he use to sleep with you? –Yes, sir; he did.

Did he use to cry when you talked of your husband coming back to you? – Yes, sir.

Now, on the Tuesday did you not go to the public-house with Dalton and Dagnall?

-No, sir; but they brought some drink home for me, but it was in the bottle next morning.

Did you all get drunk on that day? – Yes, sir.

Did you all get drunk on the following afternoon, Wednesday? – Dagnall and Dalton were drunk, but I was not.

The Coroner: Were you worse for drink? – Well, I knew what I was doing.

Mr. Wilson: What time did your husband go to bed after he had got drunk? – witness: About 11 o’clock in the morning.

What time did he get up? – About five o’clock.

Did your husband have any more drink after that? Yes, sir.

Did Dagnall?

Did you and your husband go out again? – Yes, sir. We went to the Fox Hotel, and my husband got drunk.

Further cross-examined, witness said they returned home about 9-30 p.m., and neither of them was sober. Dagnall was in the kitchen. She had not known of any quarrel between the two men.

I understand that there was you, your husband, Dagnall, his four children, your brother, and his wife, and three children, all sleeping in the house? – Yes, sir.

Beyond drink and jealousy there was no other cause for the attack? – Well, no sir.

Did Dagnall even threaten you? – No, sir.

Mr. Muir Wilson said it was quite clear that his client would be committed for trial. It would no doubt be a case of wilful murder, and it would be his endeavour to try and reduce the charge to manslaughter at the right time. He thought if the jury were satisfied it was no use calling any further evidence.

The Coroner said the evidence of the doctors had better be given.

Dr. Craik said he was called hurriedly to Park road to a case of serious wounding at about 4 a.m. He found Dagnall sitting in the kitchen near the door bleeding from a cut in the throat, but it was not serious. He went upstairs and found Dalton, who was lying quite cold and pale, evidently in a faint. There was a large wound in the throat, which had evidently bled a lot. He found a slight wound on the right side, which was not very serious, except that it exposed the muscles. On the left side there was a wound, which was deep, and bleeding freely. This went across to wind-pipe in front about 4 inches below the chin and extended to the left side, deeply amongst the muscles penetrating the upper part of the air passage. It was a wound that might be attended by dangerous consequences. A sharp instrument such as a very sharp knife or a razor, would be likely to cause such wounds. He also started coughing up blood, so he plugged the wound and had deceased taken to the Infirmary in a cab.

Mr. Wilson: You know nothing about the cause of death? – Dr. Craik: No, sir.

Supposing you had not done what you did, would he have bled to death? – Yes, in a very short time.

So that instead of bleeding to death, he was choked to death? – I don’t know.

Patrick McHale said he was a miner, and resided at Conisboro’. He and his wife and family lodged at Dagnall’s. On the night previous to the attack he slept in the garret. He heard Mrs. Dalton shouting, and came down into the room. Mrs. Dalton said, ‘Oli, Paddy, bring a light?’ He ran downstairs and brought up a lighted lamp. He saw James Dalton with his left hand on his own throat, and he had hold of James Dagnall with his right hand. Dagnall bleeding from the arm. He saw blood on Dalton. He then went out for assistance, and returned with a man named Smith. Mrs. Dalton and her husband then let go of Dagnall. He said ‘I have done him,’ meaning Dalton; and ‘I will do you,’ meaning Mrs. Dalton. His sister then went and opened the bedroom window and shouted ‘Murder!’ Witness saw a razor drop from near Dalton’s head on the floor. The policeman then came up. He told Dagnall to get up. He lifted him up, and there was a hatchet underneath him.

Mr. Wilson: You are Mrs. Dalton’s brother? – Witness: Yes, sir.

When you went to bed, where was the deceased man and your sister? – They would be at the ‘Fox’, drinking.

Where was James Dagnall? – Laid on the sofa.

Whilst Dalton was in prison, did you live with your sister at all? – Well, I lodged at Dagnall’s.

You know of the relationship which had been between Dagnall and your sister? – Yes, sir, but I could not help it.

Mr. Wilson: I know you could not. I sympathise with you. There had, rightly or wrongly, been an affection sprung up between the two? – Yes, sir.

Dr. Willey, house surgeon at the Infirmary, said that the two men were received on Thursday morning, August 30th, at about 6 a.m. Dalton was in a very weak state from loss of blood. Across the front of the throat there was a wound four and a half inches in length. The wind-pipe was open. It was necessary to give him chloroform to stitch up the wound. During the day and night he was very restless. On the following day, Friday, he had symptoms of pneumonia. His condition became worse and on Sunday night he came slightly delirious. On Monday the delirium increased, and he died about eleven o’clock, the cause of death being septic pneumonia, following on and caused by the wound in the throat.

Mr. Wilson: So that if the wound had not been stitched up, do you think the man would have died? – Dr. Willey: The wound had done bleeding when we stitched it.

To put it plainly, this man died through the blood in the lungs? – Yes.

It was really necessary to stitch the wound? – Oh, yes, the wind-pipe was open.

There is possibly three causes of death – first the wound; secondly, loss of blood; and lastly, pneumonia intervening? – Yes.

There were no wounds on the head? – No.

Dr. Willey said that Dagnall had a serious wound about three inches long on the right side. The wind-pipe was open. He had also another superficial wound just below the other. All the wounds could have been caused by a razor.

Mr. Wilson said that so far as the injuries were concerned, he had no doubt that it was his client who inflicted them.

The Coroner asked if the jury were satisfied with the evidence that had been given, and also defined murder.

The Foreman said they were quite satisfied, and were all agreed as to the verdict, which was one of ‘Wilful murder’ against James Dagnall.

Dagnall, who was yet under care at the Infirmary, will be formally charged, it is expected, next Wednesday.