In the late Victorian period an army Lieutenant's mistress died after he carried out a DIY abortion on her, but his death sentence was instead commuted to just three years imprisonment after intervention by the Home Secretary.
29 year old Jane Yates, described as a 'woman of independent means' in the press, lived with her widowed mother a 62 Edge Lane, where the body of the Hanging Boy was discovered in 1946.
Jane spent the night of 20th July 1898 away from home and three days later she complained of feeling ill, remaining in bed for two days. She left home on the 25th but the following day a doctor called to her mother saying that she was critically ill and staying with a friend at 140 Salisbury Road, Wavertree. She was attended to by the family physician Dr Bligh and a specialist but died from blood poisoning in the early hours of 27th July, having still manage to enjoy a last glass of champagne and ice.
Both doctors agreed that the blood poisoning had been the result of a miscarriage that has been began by the use of an instrument. Although Jane had been able to tell Dr Bligh that she alone was responsible for what had happened, the medical men were certain that she was not being truthful.
Mrs Yates explained that Jane had suffered a miscarriage five years earlier, connecting it to Lieutenant Robert Wark, a married man who was then in Liverpool with the 2nd Volunteer Artillery. He was now stationed in Woolwich but had continued to correspond with Jane on an almost daily basis, addressing letters to Miss Setay, her surname spelt backwards, and sending them to a stationery shop in Wavertree Road.
At the Inquest, which took place over a month later, the Coroner said that the letters contained passages which were a disgrace to any man and only read what was necessary, including references to a meeting at Crewe on 20th July. They also referred to Jane's 'condition' with the Illustrated Police News reporting that Wark had wrote that 'they could not expect a doctor to run any risks but he was prepared to do so.'
46 year old Wark was present at the Inquest but said nothing on the advice of his solicitor, although a statement he had made to the police in London though was read out. This contained an admission that he and Jane had enjoyed 'undue intimacy' for the last six years, with her often visiting him in London after he was posted to Woolwich. Regarding the abortion though, he denied having any knowledge of it and claimed that he had last seen Jane three weeks before her death. His statement said he knew nothing about any miscarriage and had tried to persuade Jane not to seek an abortion. However this was in direct contradiction to the content of his letters that were read out by the Coroner, as he had crucially not mentioned the meeting at Crewe.
The jury though found that the cause of death was poisoning due to an abortion and that Wark had aided and abetted the deceased. The Coroner stated that this was equivalent to a verdict of wilful murder and Wark was taken into custody.
The following day Wark appeared at the Police Court where he was remanded whilst further evidence was gathered. His wife was interviewed by Lloyds Weekly at their home and she appeared to be standing by her husband, possibly because Jane had left him £7,000 in her will. It was actually Mrs Wark who had introduced the two to each other via a riding school in Spekelands Road.
Wark's trial began at the Liverpool Assizes on 7th December. Staff confirmed that the couple had stayed at the London & North Western Railway Hotel in Crewe on 20th and 21st July, signing in as Captain and Mrs Yates. The surgeon who carried out the post mortem said that an abortion had been carried out, while the graphic contents of the letters were read to then jury. After two hours deliberation a guilty verdict was returned with a recommendation for mercy.
Before sentence was passed Wark addressed the court and said that he was not guilty and that the only statements which were true were those of himself and Jane. Justice Phillimore then sentenced him to death in the usual manner, leading to some hissing from the public gallery. As Wark was taken down the steps towards the condemned cell he was cheered by many.
Petitions calling for a free pardon were forwarded to the Home Secretary Matthew Ridley. However he responded that on the evidence given, this was not justified. He instead commuted the death sentence and ordered that Wark serve three years penal servitude.