Whybourn, Esther Emma

Murder In Hemel Hempstead on Monday 22nd May 1905

Paul Watts

Edward Kenward Whybourn was born c. 1852 in Northiam, Sussex and married Esther Emma Randall, born c. 1843 at Burpham, Sussex at St Pauls Walsall Stafford on 18th April 1877. They had two children. Ralph born c. 1878 and Daisy born c. 1881 who died in childhood.

From the Luton Reporter 25th May 1905

Wife Murder at Hemel Hempstead. Frenzied Husband’s Terrible Crime. A Remarkable Letter. Sensational Evidence At The Inquest. Verdict Of “Wilful Murder.”

Tragedy succeeds tragedy with ominous regularity in the quiet, old fashioned town of Hemel Hempstead. Inconveniently situated within two miles of “Sleepy Hollow”, possessing a church with a marvellous spire, and nestling in the lap of the most charming natural scenery, this quaintest of quaint spots has, until recently, enjoyed a complete immunity from scenes of violence and bloodshed. The Markyate motor car tragedy was immediately followed by a sad drowning fatality at Boxmoor, which, in turn, was succeeded by a Hemel Hempstead man’s attempted murder of his wife and children. On Monday Hemel Hempstead was the scene of yet another domestic tragedy. At an early hour in the morning a middle aged tradesman named Edward Kenward Whybourn murdered his wife in a most brutal way, and after attacking his son, made a determined attempt upon his own life. Less than two months ago Whybourn bought an old established drapery business in Cheapside, Hemel Hempstead. He and his wife lived above, and seemingly on the best of terms, until Wednesday of last week, when their son, a Clerk, 27 years of age, came to stay with them for a short holiday.

Soon after daybreak on Monday young Whybourn awoke to find his father in his room. The elder man immediately left the apartment without uttering a word and his son dropped off to sleep again. Later the young man was again aroused, and again found his father in the room. This time, it is said, the latter had in his hand a large coal hammer, which his son took away from him after a brief struggle. Then the father left the room once more, and the son hastily proceeded to dress himself. While he was thus engaged he was alarmed by the sound of groans coming from his parent’s bedroom. Finding this apartment locked, young Whybourn ran downstairs and into the street, where he found a Police Sergeant and a Constable, who at once entered the house, and broke into the locked room. An awful spectacle met their gaze. The bed was literally soaked in blood. On the floor lay the dead body of Mrs Whybourn, her head battered to a pulp, and her throat cut from ear to ear. Her husband was discovered crouching in a corner, on the other side of the bed. His head was hanging over a bath, into which blood was pouring from a horrible gaping wound in his throat. Between his left arm and his side, a large blood stained carving knife was found. On being lifted on to the bed the man moaned once or twice, and then lapsed into insensibility. He was at once conveyed on a stretcher to the West Herts Infirmary, where it was deemed imperative immediately to perform an operation upon him. Since his occupation of the Hemel Hempstead establishment more than one customer has remarked upon his absentmindedness.

The Inquest.

Remarkable Evidence. On Monday afternoon the County Coroner Mr Smeathman, held an inquest in the Hemel Hempstead Town Hall on the body of the murdered woman. Mr F.J. Chennells, a former Mayor of the borough, was chosen foreman of the jury. The Coroner, in opening the proceedings, deplored the necessity of holding another inquest and stated that Hemel Hempstead was gaining an unenviable notoriety for crimes of violence. The jury then proceeded to view the body, which was lying in the bedroom over the shop.

The Brother’s Evidence.

Thomas Whybourn, of Hurst Green, Sussex, was the first witness. He said, “I am a farmer. Deceased was my sister-in-law. She was the wife of Edward Kenward Whybourn, and was about sixty years of age. My brother came to Hemel Hempstead seven or eight weeks ago, and took Mr Cheeseright’s drapery business, which he purchased. He had had the shop open for about five or six weeks. Before coming to Hemel Hempstead, he lived at Tunbridge Wells. He was formerly a grocer. He had not been in business for a time. He had a business at Mayfield last summer. He was only there for a short time, the man he purchased it from buying it back. Previous to that he had been out of business for six years. I saw him at Hemel Hempstead about Easter time. He was then depressed and low spirited, but not sufficient to cause any alarm. I had a letter from him last Saturday, in which he said that he was worrying about the business, and that he did not feel capable of carrying it on. I did not reply to the letter. The next I heard was the news conveyed by a telegram from my brother’s son stating that his father and mother were dying and asking me to come at once. I knew my brother’s son had been a great trouble to him. He has been convicted for assault and demanding money and sent to gaol for six months. That was the second offence. The son is 27 years of age. My brother and his wife were on very affectionate terms. I saw my brother last night at the West Herts Infirmary. He was conscious, although he was suffering severely from a wound in the throat. I did not say much to him. He said to me, “What an awful thing I have done. I don’t know what I shall do.” I saw him again this morning. He asked me if I had made arrangements for his wife’s funeral and some business affairs. The letter produced by Superintendent is in the handwriting of my brother. I am quite certain of it, there is not the slightest doubt about that.

The letter was as follows:

Hemel Hempstead. My dear brothers. Forgive me for the great sorrow and trouble which I have brought upon you and family in committing the awful deed of taking my own life and that of my darling wife and son (I could not leave them behind). Notwithstanding the privileges and advantages which I enjoyed in my earlier days I deeply regret that my latter life has been a failure. I do not consider that I have been wholly to blame. God knows my weakness and will, I trust, judge me accordingly. I do most earnestly repent, and am sorry for my sins, and ask God for His loving mercy and forgiveness, and may we all eventually meet at His Throne of Grace. My darling wife has always been most kind towards me, but it has always been a bitter regret to her that I should have given up my first business and work; and what with the great trial with Ralph, our having left our late home, and what we have gone through since, culminating in my taking this business, which is most unsatisfactory and unsuitable, and our consequent unhappiness here is proving too much for her, and she is almost broken down in health and spirits. Do not blame her for anything as all our troubles are due to my own short comings and folly. Ralph, too, has since his release from prison commenced to worry us for money as in the past. (I am sure poor fellow he is to be pitied). He feels it keenly that he was not bailed out at the end of the three months. It is cruel of me, my dear brothers, to bring this great trial upon you, but it is impossible for me to go on living in this way any longer. Do not grieve, and may I ask you to see to my affairs to the best of your abilities. Get what you can for the stock at business, furniture, etc., etc., discharge all liabilities, accounts at Cook’s, Ward Street, Ryland, etc. Communicate with Esther’s brother, Mr James Randall, Orchard Place, Arundel; send him £50 as soon as possible, he being an invalid; also let have my dear wife’s dressing case, watch, jewellery and other trinkets, which you may think proper. If sufficient, I should like you to give £50 towards Hurst Green Church Endowment Fund, and if possible, I should like to be buried near dear father’s and mother’s grave. Have all our personal belongings taken to Hurst Green, and do what you consider is best with them. Messrs Langham have my will. Mr Spickernell will give you other information. Once again, my dear brothers, I ask you to forgive me, and do not grieve; our trouble is more than I can bear, and may God in His boundless mercy receive our spirits into eternal rest. May God sustain and strengthen you in this and all your troubles. With affectionate love to you, my dear brothers, aunt, and all relatives and friends. Your erring and unhappy brother, Edward.
On a separate sheet of paper appeared: “Employ Messrs Houghton and Sons, of Wood Green, to dispose of stock.”

The Son in the Witness Box.

Ralph Whybourn, sworn, said: I am the son of Edward Kenward Whybourn. I knew my father and mother were living at Hemel Hempstead. I came here last Wednesday. I have been undergoing imprisonment at Maidstone gaol for an assault on my father. The sentence was six months. That was not the first time. When I came to Hemel Hempstead I found my father was very depressed. He was on good and affectionate terms with my mother. On Friday I had a dispute with my father about some money that I wanted. He refused to let me have it. We had another dispute on Sunday. He asked me if I was going away on Monday, and I said, “I should like to go away, if I can get about £20 to settle me for some clothing, and so on.” My mother was present on both occasions but took no part in the dispute. She did say that she did not think that it could be done, meaning that I could not have the £20. During Sunday we talked about various things. My mother and I went to bed at about a quarter to ten, leaving my father up. I did not hear him come to bed. I saw the gas turned off about a quarter of an hour afterwards. This is done every night by my father. I heard nothing more until the next morning. During last week I had a conversation with my mother about father. She said that he did not scarcely to seem to grasp the business, and that it was a great trouble. On Monday morning, about 6.30 my father came into my bedroom. He had to pass through a passage and a smaller apartment to get to my room. When he entered he went to the window. I asked him what was the matter, and he said, “Nothing; lie down.” He then took up the clock, and I asked him what the time was. He said, “About six o’clock.” He then left the room and took the clock with him. I went to sleep again, but about an hour later I was awakened by the door opening suddenly. Looking up I was horrified to see my father standing over me with a hammer clasped in both hands above his head. He did not speak. I sprung up and screamed out. I was very frightened. I had a slight struggle with him and took hold of the hammer. He ran into the next room, which was the spare room. I had another struggle with him there. He then ran into his own bedroom, but I did not follow him. I dressed quickly and left the hammer in my room. I went to my father’s bedroom door and knocked at it. I also called out but received no answer. The door was locked. I then went into the basement, because I thought he had gone there. I went back, and called again, and also knocked at the door. I heard groans proceeding from the room. I called out, “Won’t you open the door, please?” I heard more groans and also heard my father say, “Fetch a doctor.” Shortly afterwards he said the same thing.

I ran quickly out of the house and told a Constable who was standing just outside. I told him that I thought there was something wrong and he came back with me. We went upstairs, and the Constable forced the door open with the help of a hammer. The Constable entered the bedroom and I followed him. I saw my father kneeling with his throat cut and his head over the bath. He was near the fireplace on the opposite side of the door. The Constable went for a doctor and I held my father up for a few minutes and tried to stop the bleeding. Just as the Constable returned I saw my mother. She was lying on the floor on the right hand side of the room near the door and appeared to be hidden. When the doctor came I left the room. I think I must have left the hammer outside the bedroom. When I went to the basement I took the hammer with me. I had never seen it before I saw it in my father’s hands. I heard my mother say that father was sometimes strange in his head in the night. That was about a year ago. She asked me to go to her if she ever called. I thought at that time she meant illness. During Sunday night I did not hear any noises. My mother would have had to call rather loudly for me to hear her. There was no actual violence between me and my father when we had the disputes last week. I had not seen my father since Monday morning.

The witness was frequently overcome with emotion and several times burst into tears. He presented a lonely and pathetic figure as he sat with his handkerchief to his eyes beside the Coroner and gave his sensational account of the murder. When the blood stained carving knife and the pointed hammer, both murderous looking instruments, were handed to him, a visible shudder passed over his frame and his face assumed an ashen hue.

A Constable’s Story.

PC Bolton of the Herts Police said on Monday morning he was on duty near the Posting House when Ralph Whybourn came to him and said that the door of his father’s bedroom was locked, and that he feared there was something wrong. He went with him, in company with Police Sergeant Wilcox, to the shop, and going upstairs he found the bedroom door locked from the inside. The key was in the lock. Someone was moaning inside the room. The hammer was lying just outside the door. He picked up the hammer and attempted to force the door with it. He then charged the door with his shoulder and burst it open at the third or fourth attempt. On entering the room, he found the father lying on the floor near the fireplace in a pool of blood. Upon seeing this the son exclaimed, “Oh father’s committed suicide.” He (the son) went towards his father with his arms outstretched. He then rushed out to the landing shouting, “Fetch the doctor.” He seemed very upset. His father was kneeling over a small foot bath, in which the blood was running from a gaping wound in his throat. He lifted up his head and placed it against the wall. This seemed to stop the bleeding a little. He was still moaning. Witness saw a large carving knife (produced) lying in the folds of his nightshirt, as though it had dropped from his hand after he had cut his throat. The bed and pillow were covered in blood. The deceased was lying on the floor on the right hand side of the bed. Her head was almost severed from her body and she appeared to be quite dead. As the man was still alive witness ran across to Dr Steele’s surgery, which was almost opposite, and Dr Harvey at once came. Witness afterwards obtained a stretcher and conveyed the father to the West Herts Infirmary.

The Medical Evidence.

Dr C.R. Harvey, assistant to Dr Steele said: I was called by PC Bolton at 7.30 a.m. I went at once and in the back bedroom I found the father lying undressed on the floor. His throat was cut, and it was bleeding very much. He was practically unconscious. I ordered his removal to the West Herts Infirmary and then examined the body of deceased which was lying in the right hand corner of the room. She had only her nightdress on and was quite dead. The body was lying on the left side. I found the throat cut. The incision was 4 ½ inches in length and cut right down to the spine. She also had a lacerated wound about two inches in length above the right ear. Below that there was a compound comminuted fracture of the skull. There was also a deep wound at the back of the neck reaching to the spine and another wound on the hand. I should say that the wounds in the head were such as would be inflicted by the hammer produced and the cuts in the throat by the knife. The body was quite warm. The son came in the room once while I was there. Either of the injuries were sufficient to cause death except that on the hand.
By Superintendent Frogley: She would not live long after receiving the injuries.
Superintendent Frogley said that he was in the room when the doctor examined the deceased. On the chest of drawers in the room he found the letter which had been read to the jury. It was in an unstamped envelope addressed to “T. Whybourn, Hurst Green, Sussex.”

The Coroner remarked that it was a terrible case. Here was no question that the deceased died from the wounds received and that the injuries were inflicted by the husband. For the sake of the son, who admitted that he had served two terms of imprisonment for assaulting his father, he was very glad indeed that this poor man wrote the letter that had been read that afternoon, because it clearly indicated that his intention was first to kill his wife, then his son, and then to destroy himself.
The jury, without retiring, returned a verdict of “Wilful Murder” against Edward Kenward Whybourn.

From a Calendar of Prisoners Tried at Assizes.

Edward Kenward Whybourn aged 53 a Draper was tried on 24th June 1905 at Hertford Assizes with: “Feloniously, wilfully and of his own malice aforethought, killing and murdering Esther Emma Whybourn at Hemel Hempstead on 22nd May 1905.” He was found insane on Arraignment and ordered to be kept in strict custody till His Majesty’s Pleasure shall be known.

From the Luton Reporter 29th June 1905.

Both the murderers from Hemel Hempstead were found at the Assizes to be insane; and they were ordered to be detained during His Majesty’s pleasure.

PC Bolton.

Albert William Bolton served for 3 years in 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards before being transferred to the reserves. He was then appointed to Herts County Constabulary as PC 84 on 27th October 1904. For his actions on the morning of the murder PC Bolton was later Commended by the Chief Constable Lieutenant Colonel Henry Daniell, which was published as:

General Order No/. 17 of 5th August 1905
PC Bolton 84 D. By Chief Constable re Hemel Hempstead murder.

At the outbreak of World War One PC Bolton was recalled to active service with the Grenadier Guards. He transferred to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and by the end of the war had risen to the rank of Acting Colour Sergeant Major.

On demobilisation he was re-appointed to the Herts County Constabulary as PC 305 on 23rd January 1919. He was swiftly promoted to Acting Sergeant and confirmed in that rank a year later on 27th March 1920. Promotion to Acting Inspector came on 30th March 1923 with confirmation of the substantive rank coming again a year later. He retired as a Police Inspector on 31st October 1929.

What happened to Edward Kenward Whybourn.

From the 1911 Census.
There is a record for a male patient at Broadmoor Asylum, Crowthorne, Berkshire whom, like all the patients, is only identified by his initials. These are E.K.W., but in addition it gives the following facts: his age as 59 (born c. 1852), that he is a widower, that he was a Draper and that he was born in Northiam, Sussex.

From Probate Records:
Edward Kenward Whybourn of Hemel Hempstead Hertfordshire died on 27th October 1939 at Broadmoor Asylum, Crowthorne, Berkshire.

Sources: Ancestry.co.uk, Findmypast.co.uk, Hertfordshire Constabulary Historical Society Archives

This page was added on 02/07/2018.

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