Monday, 31 October 2016

The Walton Poison Tragedy

A Walton man who poisoned a woman and baby and then tried to commit suicide was convicted of murder and saw his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. 

In early 1914 Charles Farrow, a bookkeeper and dispenser to two doctors, began living with an old childhood flame Jane Bruce at 86 Chirkdale Street in Walton. In January 1915, thirty nine year old Jane gave birth to a baby girl who they named Mary.

After falling ill and being prescribed stout, Jane took a liking to the drink and began to take it alongside spirits, sometimes drinking a bottle of whisky a day. This led to several quarrels between the couple and in March 1916 Farrow hit out at Jane, kicking her.

Farrow responded to Jane's drinking by gambling heavily and he lost £30 (equivalent to over £2,000 today) on the Epsom Derby. When Farrow failed to turn up for work at Dr Unsworth's surgery in St Anne Street on 5th June 1916 the alarm was raised and police broke into his home. They found him semi-conscious in bed with Jane, who was already dead. Mary was in a bad way too and they were both taken to Stanley hospital. 

After being transferred to Mill Road hospital for further treatment, Farrow was discharged on 15th June and arrested by Detective Sergeant Range. He was charged with murder, attempted murder and attempted suicide and taken to appear before the Stipendiary Magistrate. He responded to the charges by saying that Jane was a drunken woman who gave him provocation and that he then 'felt it better to finish the lot of us.' He admitted giving Jane three ounces of morphia, Mary one ounce then taking four ounces himself. Mary had made a full recovery and been handed over to the care of Jane's sister Mary Kelly.

Farrow was then remanded pending the outcome of the inquest that was scheduled for  Mrs Freeman from number 89 told the coroner that she had witnessed Farrow kick Jane and that her habits had deserved it. Jane's sister said she had visited from her home in Durham the previous Christmas and that the couple seemed comfortable together and fond of their baby girl. Dr Mildred Powell said the postmortem showed that Jane's liver was damaged by alcohol but that death was a result of poisoning. This led to the jury returning a verdict of wilful murder.

On 4th July forty one year old Farrow was committed for trial at the next Manchester assizes, which were about to start. His trial for the murder of Jane took place on 12th July and he offered no defence. Instead Farrow counsel suggested that he had fought a steady fight against Jane's drinking habits for two years and that his mind was disordered due to two years of brainstorm. 

In summing up, the judge Mr Justice Low was not favourable at all to Farrow, pointing out that death by poison was premeditation and that the killing had not been as a result of a sudden impulse. The jury found Farrow guilty, but recommended him to mercy. Farrow was sentenced to death by the judge, but two weeks later this was commuted to life imprisonment by the Home Secretary after representations by his solicitor Dr Geddes.

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