Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Hanged For Killing Wife's Grandmother

Charles Dutton was another murderer whose crime had no motive and was carried out in a drunken rage, having killed his wife’s grandmother after the couple had had an argument earlier in the day.

Hannah Hamshaw was a 70 year old widow living at 160 Athol Street in Vauxhall with her granddaughter Charlotte and her husband Charles Dutton, a 23 year old driller who was commonly known by his middle name of Harry. The couple had been married in May 1883, with Dutton being known to be violent on the occasional times he drank to excess.

On the afternoon of 6th October that year Charlotte was at her friend Harriet Kay’s home at St Martin’s Cottages in Silvester Street. Dutton arrived, having clearly been drinking and some words were exchanged between him and Charlotte, who then left with him. Twenty minutes they returned and Dutton attempted to strike his wife but Harriet intervened, telling him to leave the property. He did so but Charlotte went with him and Harriet followed them to Athol Street, observing him making threats all the way.

Later in the evening Dutton knocked at Harriet’s home asking if Charlotte was there, saying they had had words over tea and she had ran out. Harriet replied she had not seen her and he replied that he would ‘do for one of them tonight’ and went to a public house in Athol Street. At around 11pm Harriet went to fetch Charlotte and took her to St Martin’s Cottages for her own safety. After midnight, Harriet’s husband James went to check on Hannah, but Dutton refused to open the door claiming that there was a mob there as well who were after him.

Knowing something was not right James sought the help of other neighbours and forced entry through the back, finding Hannah sitting down and bleeding heavily. A doctor was called but on his arrival Hannah was quite insensible and lived for only another ten minutes. There were wounds all over her face and upper body, which he concluded had been brought about by considerable violence. Dutton was arrested soon afterwards hiding under the stairs in  a friend's house nearby.

Dutton was tried before Mr Justice Denman on 17th November. One neighbour told how on the night of the murder they had heard Dutton shout ‘Tell me where my wife is or I’ll do your entails in’ while another told how Dutton had asked to swap jackets to avoid detection. The doctor who had attended that night said the injuries were inconsistent with a fall and that Hannah was otherwise healthy.

The defence counsel acknowledged that Dutton had carried out the killing, but said that there had been no intent to kill and that it had occurred in a fit of mental aberration, meaning manslaughter was more appropriate. The jury though disagreed, finding Dutton guilty of murder following half an hour’s deliberation. Justice Denman made it clear he had no qualms with the verdict, telling him prior to sentence ‘If the jury had not found you guilty of hat crime upon such evidence as what was given it would have been a great misfortune for the inhabitants of this country.’ Dutton then showed no emotion as the death sentence was passed in the usual form.

He retired to bed late on 2nd December, the night before the execution, but still slept awkwardly. He rose as early at 4am and the sacrament was administered, then he ate a hearty breakfast at 730am, just half an hour before the execution. It was a drizzly and foggy morning but this didn’t deter around 300 morbid people from gathering outside the gaol and waiting for the black flag to be hoisted. At 8am Dutton was hanged by Bartholomew Binns, who was officiating at Kirkdale for the first time. He used a wrong sized rope, meaning the prisoner writhed around in agony for two minutes before losing his senses and life was not extinct until six minutes after the bolt was drawn. 

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