Saturday, 7 March 2015

Prostitute Mother Suffocates Son

A woman who had no desire to see her infant son live was charged with murder after he died of suffocation but she was fortunate to be convicted only manslaughter.

In 1866 Mary Edwards, a woman who funded her intemperate habits through prostitution, lodged with Jane Kennedy at a court in Blake Street off Copperas Hill. She had given her 21 month old son Joseph to another woman named Hayes to look after but when she demanded money from Mary and she refused to pay, the child was then returned to the mother.

Baron Martin
It was clear that Mary had been mistreating her son before giving him to Hayes, as the collarbone was broken and legs crippled up. When she took the child back, Mary implied that he would not live for very much longer as she would not rear him for his father. For a month or two Mary rarely fed him and left him undressed for long periods, on one occasion making him sleep on the floor while a cat was in the bed. When Jane tried to intervene and give him food herself, Mary would stop her.

On the morning of 27th April Jane pleaded with Mary to dress her son but she didn't and went out instead. On her return Jane left the house and at around 3pm a visitor named Elizabeth Williams called around, finding Mary and Joseph, who had a cloth over his face, lying on the sofa. The visitor left and was followed by Mary soon after, then at 4pm Jane returned and found that Joseph was dead, still with the cloth over his face. When she was taken into custody Mary implied that she had intended to cause death, telling the officer 'Its very hard for me to lose my life for the sake of that child.'

A post mortem confirmed that the cause of death was suffocation and that there were a lot of bruises on the body. The surgeon concerned felt that Joseph was in such a weak condition that it would not have taken long to cause death. At the inquest on 30th April, the Deputy Coroner Mr Wybergh commented that Mary had 'made a great determination to cause death' and that there was 'such a degree of malice present' that a committal to the assizes for wilful murder was appropriate.

Mary was committed to the assizes for a trial which took place on 10th August. Mrs Williams and Jane Kennedy gave evidence, whilst the only defence that Mary could put forward was that she was under the influence of drunk on the day of the death. Despite what seemed to be a clear motive and premeditation, the judge Baron Martin directed the jury to return a verdict of manslaughter. In sentencing her to ten years penal servitude, he said that the crime was as near to murder as possible.

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