Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Tong Killer Acquitted

A German man who came to the aid of his landlady when she was getting battered by her husband ended up getting charged with murder himself but was acquitted by a jury. 

On the evening of Sunday 14th January 1877 a German shoemaker named Frederick Walter was in his lodgings in Ashfield Street when his landlord Henry Rohr returned home in a drunken state and began quarrelling with his wife in their bedroom.When he went to see what was going on but Henry pushed him back out of the door. Then after hearing more screams, Frederick returned with a pair of tongs and hit Henry,with whom he worked in a salt refinery, on the back of the head.

Mrs Rohr came to her senses and asked  Frederick to go for a doctor, which he did. Dr Lucas from Great Homer Street attended and found Henry to be in a concussed state and had him removed to the Northern Hospital. Two days later Henry died from compression of the brain to the dismay of Frederick, who had been on remand for violent assault. 

After an inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder, 28 year old Frederick was committed for trial at the assizes, where he appeared before Baron Huddleston on 20th March. Under cross examination Mrs Rohr acknowledged that her 47 year old husband was drunken ill tempered man who was bigger and stronger than Frederick. A servant named Anna Willenbrock admitted that she had heard screams from Mrs Rohr but also said that she had not seen Henry with a weapon, whereas Frederick retrieved the tongs and went back into the room.

Dr Lucas described the injuries, saying that although there were a number of lacerations many could all have been caused from the same blow and others as a result of a fall. He also said that Henry had a thin skull. The police officers who detained Frederick on the night of the assault acknowledged that he had co-operated fully and admitted striking his landlord. 

The trial closed with Frederick's statement being read to the court. This said that he had been punched and struck with a poker by Henry, who had also been kicking his wife. In summing up the judge immediately directed the jury not to consider the murder charge, but instead to return a verdict only in relation to manslaughter. The question they had to answer, in his opinion, was whether or not Frederick had a reasonable excuse for doing what he did. In saying this, he drew particular attention to the fact that Henry was leaning over his wife, who was prostrate, at the time of the attack.

The jury did not even leave their box and immediately returned a verdict of not guilty. Frederick was discharged from the dock in the knowledge he would now be able to return to his native Hanover and see his wife and children again.

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