Thursday, 18 June 2015

Baby Left in the Snow to Die

A mother who left her baby in a hole in some wasteland on a snowy night was only convicted of child abandonment due to inconclusive medical evidence over the cause of death.

On Christmas Day 1891 Matilda Royle, a 25 year old barmaid, gave birth to a baby boy that she named Bruce at a lodging house in Seacombe run by Mrs Maitland. She remained there until the following spring but then moved to another house, giving baby Bruce to a nurse called Mrs Williams to raise, paying 5 shillings a week. By 19th November 1892 though she had fallen behind with payments and had to take him back, telling the nurse that she would be taking him across the Mersey to the Children's Infirmary in Myrtle Street. 

Matilda came to Liverpool with another lodging house resident named Emma Kraft, but records showed that Bruce was never taken to the hospital. Sometime in early December Matilda took the Dingle Tram to St Michaels and left Bruce in a hole on some waste ground next to Marmion Road. She then took all of his clothes to Emma and told her to burn them, saying that she had left Bruce in a hole wrapped in a woollen skirt and with a bottle of milk. 

On 27th January 1893 a ten year old boy was playing on the waste ground and found male body parts, leading to him finding a policeman. The body was covered with canvas and there was also burnt wood around it, although it was common for lads to light small fires in that area. A post mortem was unable to determine the cause of death due to the body being so badly decomposed but it was estimated to be that of a child less than a year old and to have been dead for about two months. The inquest returned an open verdict and with very little to go on the police were unable to investigate the case much further.

Finally in June 1894 the police received an anonymous tip off that Emma had knowledge of what happened to Bruce. With little to lose, detectives visited her and she told them everything she knew, then was arrested in connection with the death. They then went to Windermere Street and arrested Matilda, who told them that Bruce was alive when she left him and that he had the milk. Both women were taken to Lark Lane police station and formally charged with murder, Matilda pointing out the spot where she left Bruce, which was exactly the place where the body parts were found. 

On 13th July Emma was discharged at the magistrates' court as there was insufficient evidence against her, with Matilda being committed for trial at the assizes, where she appeared before Justice Collins on 2nd August. The prosecution were faced with the difficulty not just of proving that Matilda had wilfully killed Bruce, but also that the body found was that of him in the first place. As such, following comments made by the judge, they agreed not to proceed with a murder charge and instead accepted Matilda's guilty plea to 'abandoning a child in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health.'

Matilda's defence counsel pleaded that she was a respectable woman who was well thought of by her employers. They said that she had taken off Bruce's wet clothing and wrapped him in a warm woollen skirt in a well populated area where she thought he would be found. Justice Collins did not accept this mitigation however, saying that it was unlikely Bruce would be found as the hole was out of the way and it was snowing. He then sentenced her to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

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