Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Rat Catcher Hanged

A pest control expert was hanged after killing his wife due to her drunkenness, the jury refusing to believe his explanation that she had cut her head on a box after falling over.

James Trickett was 42 years old and lived with his wife Mary and two young children in Hopwood Street, Vauxhall. He worked as a freelance rat catcher, regularly being employed by the local corporation, dock board and large mercantile firms. He was also known as a bird fancier, having a number of cages in his house and yard from where he also sold seeds.

At around 8pm on 26th December 1877 a neighbour Margaret Brown heard screams coming from inside Trickett’s property and looked through the window, where she saw Trickett kicking at his wife. A boy was screaming ‘please come to bed mother.’ After discretely waiting around Margaret saw Mary get up and sit on a chair, before going upstairs. She then heard Mary scream again and her husband shouting ‘Is this not a nice bed for a man to lie on.’

Demetrius Caralli, a carter who lived opposite also heard some of the commotion but was so used to it he did not investigate any further. Trickett’s son went over and asked for help but he would not intervene. A few moments later Trickett came out looking wild and with bloodied hands, went into a herbalists shop next door saying ‘it is done’ and then returned home and put the shutters up. A flatman named John Shore who was returning to his home two doors away was passing Trickett’s house when he appeared and said ‘come in John I have killed the wife’. John went upstairs and saw Mary lying semi conscious on the floor with a knife next to her, although there was no blood.

In desperation, Trickett’s son went to Susannah Bowen’s house at the corner of Hopwood Street and Latimer Street, saying to her ‘For God’s sake please come and see if you can help me.’ Susannah did go there and found Trickett bathing Mary’s forehead with a sponge and he asked her to send for Father Duggan. Susannah replied that a doctor was needed too and when asked by Trickett to lie for him and say she had fallen down the stairs and hit her head on a box, she said she could not do so.

It did not take long for the police to become aware that something was wrong and at 8.30pm Inspector Donaldson arrived, by which time Mary had passed away. Trickett was still bathing her head and said she had fallen down the stairs, but the officer noticed there was now a large amount of blood on the floor and bedclothes. Inspector Donaldson made a brief search of the house but could find no murder weapon, but he did notice there was no blood on the stairs which would have been the case if Trickett’s version of events was true. As he was taken into custody Trickett said ‘God knows I love her but if I am going to be hung for it so be it, she has been drunk for the last 31 weeks.’

As Trickett was being taken to the Main Bridewell he fainted twice. Constable Grayson made a more thorough search of the bedroom and found two parts of a broken stick, one of them having blood at the end of it. The doctor who carried out the post mortem found wounds on the cheek and forehead, of the size that could have been caused by the stick that Grayson had found. A six inch wound was found in the body which had penetrated the liver, and was believed to have been caused by a knife. On 29th December an inquest revealed that Mary was in the advanced stages of pregnancy and returned a verdict of wilful murder against her husband.

At the assizes on 24th January 1878 Trickett pleased ‘not guilty’ firmly and gave a military salute. Neighbours gave evidence and Dr Costine said there was no way the wound in the body could have been caused by falling on a box. Trickett’s defence said that there was no aforethought or malice and that instead he should be found guilty of manslaughter, albeit of the worst kind. After fifteen minutes deliberation the jury asked for clarification as to whether any of Mary’s clothing had been penetrated during he stabbing. Dr Costine produced her gown and chemise, both of which had been cut and after another fifteen minutes a verdict of guilty of murder was returned, with a strong recommendation for mercy on account of the provocation received.


When asked by Baron Pollock if he had anything to say, Trickett gave quite a lengthy statement, saying that on returning home that evening he found his wife in a drunken condition and as he was preparing his supper and lighting a fire, she fell off the stool and cut her head. He finished it by saying ‘When my wife was sober I had a heaven of a home with my meals regular and rooms clean, but when she turned to drink it was the opposite way.’ Baron Pollock though dismissed this statement saying he was at a loss as to how Trickett thought this explanation of her death could be believed given the evidence. Telling him he was supposed to be his wife’s ‘natural protector’ but had instead gave ‘considerable brutality’ the judge passed the death sentence and as he was removed to the cells Trickett waved to somebody. 

After appeals to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment failed, Trickett was hanged at Kirkdale gaol on 12th February 1878, safe in the knowledge that his children had been taken under the protective wing of their uncle rather than being admitted to the workhouse..

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