Monday, 1 April 2013

The Serial Seducer Killer

In 1929 American Joseph Clarke, a confidence trickster who had relationships with a string of women, was hanged after killing the mother of one of them.

Raised in Norfolk, Clarke's mother was American and he finished his education at Princeton University, studying psychology and hypnotism. He used what he learned to great effect, engaging in a series of affairs in America and then taking a ship across the Atlantic in 1928 after persuading one woman to loan him a large sum of money.

Once in England he developed relationships with a number of women, including four sisters from Birkenhead. After their mother found out what was going on, he began seeing Mary Fontaine, a nineteen year old typist from Toxteth who he met whilst sheltering from the rain under the entrance to the Rialto cinema. He charmed her so much that he was soon lodging with her and her mother Alice at their home in Northbrook Street.

Clarke convinced the the two women that he was a wireless operator on the seas when he was in fact a deckhand. This led to Alice agreeing to lend him some money to set up a wireless repair business, which he ran from the basement of her home. On the morning of 28th October 1928 though, Alice asked Clarke about money he owed and he strangled her and then tried to do the same to Mary, but she managed to escape and run into the street to raise the alarm. Police arrived and Clarke surrendered himself, making a full confession.

On 4th February 1929 Clarke appeared at Liverpool Assizes and stunned the court by pleading guilty, leading to him being sentenced to death by Justice Finlay in a hearing that lasted just four minutes. An appeal was lodged against the death sentence, his counsel saying that he had pleaded guilty to spare Mary the trauma of giving evidence. This was rejected though and Clarke was hanged on 12th March by Thomas Pierrepoint, walking firmly to the scaffold. He was just 21 years old and outside the prison gates, some unknown women were seen to be sobbing as the notice confirming the execution was posted.

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