Seasonal Assizes were traditional affairs full of colour, pomp and ceremony preceding the opening of the court. It served to remind the local populace of the power of the State and two key institutions of the establishment played a role in opening the Assizes.
The Hertfordshire Summer Assizes were opened by the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Alvestone. His Lordship arrived on Saturday evening at his lodgings, the residence of Mr O.A. Christie. On Sunday morning His Lordship, accompanied by the High Sheriff (Sir Alf Reynolds) the Under Sheriff (Mr C.E. Longmore) and the Sheriff’s Chaplain (Reverend Arthur Athill). They attended the service at All Saint’s Church, in State.
Business of Assizes was opened at 11 a.m. on Monday, 20th June, 1910. Before swearing in thirty learned men as jurors, His Lordships opening words dealt with any public concerns on the proposition that all future Assizes should be held in London; he also remarked on the changing method of swearing in the jurors at Assizes and said he had no qualm with those who wished to revert to the traditional method of kissing the bible. The Lord Chief Justice gave a short preface of the gravity of some the cases they would hear.
The Letchworth Murder Charge
This has to be one of the strangest murder cases to be reported in the Hertfordshire Mercury, with perhaps an equally strange and unexpected outcome (from a 21st century perspective).
Frederick George Beeton, aged 29, a Railway Clerk, was charged that he, “feloniously, wilfully and of malice afterthought, killed Margaret Ruby Anna Young on 10th September, 1909.”
The case lasted the whole day and took up a large space in its reporting in the Hertfordshire Mercury. Mr R.D. Briggs and Mr Muir acted for the prosecution whilst Mr Ernest Wild and Mr Freeman were for the defence.
Mr Muir opened the prosecution case against the prisoner by giving a resume. Frederick Beeton was, in 1908, residing at number 2 Pix Road, Letchworth. He had a wife and three young children.
Rose Young moved into number 24 Pix Road. Beeton heard that Rose was a single woman and she was taking in lodgers. He called on Rose on the pretence of becoming one of her lodgers. He did not tell her he was a married man. As a result of their acquaintance, Rose gave birth to a child girl in July, 1909. Soon afterwards, Rose began pressing Beeton for money to support the child and herself, due to her natural confinement. Letters would be produced to prove Beeton had little chance of raising any money for Rose Young or their child, as he was employed as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway Company, with an annual income of just £80.
Rose Young had a child girl on 28th July, 1909 and registered the birth a month later on 28th August and as a result of the child’s registration, the Vaccination Officer would begin to make enquiries into the child’s vaccination. The prisoner was away with his young family from the 16th August until the 28th so he was unaware the child had been registered but the very day after his return from his holiday, Beeton was seen by his friend and fellow clerk at G.N.R. who had the adjoining plot, working on his allotment.
Alexander Borwell stated that within a week of his return, Beeton was digging a deep hole amongst his cabbages. When Borwell asked him why he was digging so deep in such a spot, Beeton had replied he was looking for clay for his roses. Mr Muir’s suggestion to the jury was that Frederick Beeton was preparing the grave for his victim. At least a week before 10th September, the day of the alleged murder, Beeton was preparing her grave.
On 3rd September, Beeton told Rose that his sister-in-law, who lived in the borough of Chiswick, desired to adopt the child; Rose agreed with this course of action. On 10th September, after dark, Beeton came to Rose for the child. He told her that his sister-in-law who desired to adopt the child was waiting for her at Hitchin Train Station. Rose said she wanted to dress the child as it was a cold night but Beeton told her that would not be necessary. Rose wrapped the child in a shawl and handed the child over to Beeton.
“The suggestion of the prosecution is that Frederick Beeton took it and killed it and then put it into the grave he had prepared for it,” said Mr Muir.
The story that his sister-in-law had the child was absolutely false. For a short while, Beeton must have thought he had got away with it. When Rose asked after the well-being of the child, Beeton told her, “it was flourishing,” knowing full well at the time the child was dead.
Beeton’s plan began to unravel when Rose Young was contacted by the Vaccination Officer on 28th October, 1909. Beeton told Rose to apply for an exemption order but Rose failed to do so and she received a visit from the Vaccination Officer on 3rd December, asking to see the child and as to where it was. Rose informed Beeton, who hearing this replied, “I’m in a nice hole.” He told Rose his brother didn’t like his address to be known so he didn’t have it.
This is where the prisoner embarked on a series of drastic actions and lies to cover his tracks. He went to Canning Town and stole a child from its perambulator, which was being looked after by the child’s sister. Beeton befriended the young girl and gave her money to go into a shop to buy sweets. Once the girl was inside the shop, he took the child from the perambulator and ran off with it.
Beeton was well aware of the danger he was in as there was a huge hue and cry across the entire country over the stolen child. On 9th Decemberor shortly before, Beeton took his wife into his confidence and they turned up on Rose’s doorstep with the stolen child. The Beeton’s got Rose to write a letter, which they dictated, to the Vaccination Officer, telling him to come to her house and vaccinate the child in the coming week.
However, the furore over the stolen child intensified and the next day, the 10th December, Beeton went to Rose and said it was the wrong child and it would have to go back. Beeton gave Rose some money and they travelled by train to Kings Cross, in separate compartments as he did not want them to be seen together.
Beeton gave Rose money for a cab to take her and the stolen child to the address he handed her. It was the home of the family the child belonged to. Beeton’s idea was that Rose would return the child and tell the parents it had been left at her house by mistake and full details could be had at Scotland Yard.
The upshot of Beeton’s plan was that Rose was held, arrested and taken to Scotland Yard where she told her story. When Rose’s cab returned to Kings Cross, it was full of policemen who jumped out and arrested the waiting Beeton.
Beeton then embarked on telling another story. He said his brother did not want the child. He said he hadn’t gone on holiday with his wife to Peterborough. He had travelled all the way from Peterborough to London. After going into a public house on the Euston Road he had met with two strange men and a woman; to whom he confided his difficulties. He told these strangers he was a married man with three children and an illegitimate child he wanted to put out to nurse.
The men said, “Ah, you want Mrs Jeffries of Canning Town.” Beeton said he asked for this Mrs Jeffries address but the men said they would go and fetch her. Beeton told the police at Scotland Yard that he waited two hours before Mrs Jeffries arrived.
When she arrived, Beeton claimed Mrs Jeffries had said she would take the child for £5; where Beeton would get £5 was not known. The prosecution stated they knew a Mrs Jeffries never took the child away because it was already dead and buried beneath Beeton’s allotment. Nobody has ever heard of a Mrs Jeffries, before or since. Afterwards, Beeton said he went to Canning Town to look for the elusive Mrs Jeffries and seeing the child in the perambulator, he took it into his head that Mrs Jeffries must be dead and he stole the child.
Remarkably, having lost this child, he tried to get hold of another one whilst on remand in prison. He wrote to Rose telling her he had heard of another child being cared for at the Whitechapel Workhouse. He told her to go to the Workhouse and apply for the child, giving an emphatic “yes” as to it being their missing child. Rose couldn’t have been very convincing because the Board of Guardians did not believe her.
Mr Muir said this was how Frederick Beeton was behaving whilst in prison during his remand for the child stealing case; knowing all the time his own child was dead and buried on his allotment.
On 10th January 1910, Frederick Beeton appeared at the Central Criminal Court and pleaded guilty to stealing the child, named Lock, from Canning Town and was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment in the Second Division and went to Wormwood Scrubs. Beeton’s sentence could not possibly end before the lease on his allotment came up for renewal and he was terrified someone else might take the allotment over. “Somebody else would be digging that piece of land and you can imagine and picture yourselves, the agony of apprehension Beeton must have been in, shut up there in prison, helpless, while each day his crime might be discovered,” said Mr Muir.
It was in that helpless state of mind that Beeton came into contact with a man named Stockall, a fellow prisoner, to whom Beeton confided his story; and he described it to Stockall in such detail it could only have been heard from Beeton himself. Among other things, Beeton confided he had drowned the child and buried it on his allotment and had planted cabbages over it; that the tenure of his allotment ran on 25th March; and having got rid of the body, he had easily got hold of another one to replace it.
Stockall was also told by Beeton that he had burnt the shawl and little child bonnet and said he wished he had burnt the body too. Police followed up Stockall’s statement and conveyed the information to the Hertfordshire Constabulary who followed the lead and dug up the child’s body, which was buried under the cabbage patch just as Stockall had said Beeton claimed to have buried it.
Alexander Borwell, a friend and colleague of Beeton’s, saw police dig up the body in exactly the same spot he had seen Beeton “digging for clay to bed his roses.” The clothes the child was buried in were identified by Rose Young as the clothes she was wearing the night Beeton took her away.
At the end of his sentence for stealing the Lock child from Canning Town, the prisoner was rearrested but so desperate was he as the time was approaching that he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs and ran a mile down the road in his prison clothes before he was recaptured. When his three months had expired, he was re-arrested and charged with the wilful murder of his child, to which he made no reply.
The first prosecution witness to take the stand was Rose Young, of 24 Pix Road, Letchworth, who stated she was a single woman who took in lodgers. She arranged to take Beeton in, not knowing he was a married man. Beeton never actually came to lodge. She stated she supported counsel’s statement leading up to the murder.
Under cross examination Rose Young said she was 37 years old and was the mother of two other illegitimate children.
Albert G. Prater, the Vaccination Officer, was next to give his evidence as to the part he had played in trying to find the dead child.
Dorothy Lock of 13, York Street, Canning Town, the little girl who had her child sister snatched by Beeton, said she now lived in Southend. On 7th December, 1909, she was wheeling her little sister Phoebe, in Rathbone Street when the prisoner approached her and bought a doll for Phoebe. He gave her money to go into a shop to buy nuts and when she came out of the shop, the prisoner was gone and so was her sister.
Detective Sergeant Lee of the Metropolitan Police stated when he arrested the prisoner at Aldgate East Railway Station, Beeton had said, “I thought it was my child.” He then told the story about the three strangers in the public house and the mysterious Mrs Jeffries.
Louis William Beeton of number 5, Ferrers Road, Hammersmith, a Carman and the brother of the accused, said he had not heard of the prisoner since 1907. Louis Beeton stated his brother had never asked him to adopt a child. His wife corroborated her husband’s statement.
Mrs Read, Matron of the Whitechapel Workhouse said the prisoner and Rose Young came to the institution in January to try and get the foundling child, which had been advertised but could not sufficiently identify it.
Thomas James Stockall, a “well known man,” who was said to be the prosecution’s most important witness, was called. He was described in court as the “famous Stockall”; the former jeweller who was the central figure in a sensational alleged robbery some years ago, which turned out to be a hoax.
James Stockall stated he had been sentenced at the Central Criminal Court and was sent to prison (Wormwood Scrubs). In January the prisoner Beeton was put into the cell adjoining his and they had frequent opportunities for conversation. He asked Beeton what he was in prison for and Beeton had said it was for stealing a child. At a later period, Beeton had told Stockall he had stolen the child to replace another. Beeton told Stockall if he would not give him away, he would tell him all about it. Stockall reassured Beeton that his secret was safe with him.
Prisoner then told Stockall he had done away with an illegitimate child and buried it on his allotment at Letchworth. Beeton said he was in great fear that his allotment might be let to someone else as the allotment’s annual lease would run out before his sentence was completed; someone might discover the body buried there. According to Stockall, Beeton said he had burned the baby’s shawl and bonnet and had said he wished he had burned the baby as well. Stockall said he was greatly troubled by Beeton’s confession and several times he told the prisoner he should confess. Beeton had replied he dare not do so as it would mean a rope around his neck.
Stockall was given a very tough time on the witness stand by Mr Wild, acting for the defence. Stockall said although he had promised the prisoner he would not give him away, Beeton’s confession had so troubled him he had felt bound to tell the prison Chaplain about it. Mr Wild attempted to prove Stockall to be an unreliable witness.
Mr Wild called Stockall a liar, a thief, a conman and a trickster, who had staged a robbery at his family jewellery business and fraudulently pocketed £3,000. He staged the robbery and even tied himself up. Stockall kept up this charade and took the £3,000 from the company’s insurers and at a later date, started selling off the “stolen” pieces to selected jewellers around London.
Stockall didn’t deny any of the actions stated by Mr Wild but pointed out he had confessed five years after the event, to his brother, who in turn told their father; who immediately called the police. Mr Wild tried to make something of the fact Stockall did not want his name in the newspapers over his involvement in this case and had courted anonymity but was refused and named at the earlier Magistrates’ Court hearing. Mr Wild pointed out that Stockall had conveniently spent the last eleven weeks of his sentence in the relative comfort of the Scrubs’ medical wing after reporting Beeton.
Stockall didn’t deny he wanted his name kept out of the press and claimed he spent the time on the medical wing because he was ill.
The Judge intervened on the side of the defence, reassuring Mr Wild that the jury would not convict if the only evidence was that provided by Thomas Stockall.
The Judge asked Stockall whether he had heard of this case through any other source other than from Beeton. Stockall said he had no prior knowledge of the case until Beeton had told him of it and he had no access to newspapers whilst he was in prison.
Edward Lord, a Warder at Wormwood Scrubs gave evidence as to Beeton’s desperate escape attempt and recapture. The deputy Governor of Wormwood Scrubs, Major Norman Burroughs, spoke about the sentences served by the prisoner and Stockall and the opportunities the pair of them would have to converse.
Detective Inspector Lewis, of the Criminal Investigation Department, deposed as to the taking of Stockall’s statement and Superintendent J.A. Unett and Superintendent J. Reynolds gave evidence as to it being passed to them. PS Warren described the digging of the allotment, the finding of the child’s body and gave the statement of the prisoner when he was arrested.
Alexander Borwell, a fellow clerk at the same company, gave corroborative evidence of Beeton’s digging of the allotment and of the finding of the buried child.
Richard E. Thacker, Stationmaster at Letchworth, said Beeton had “borne an excellent character during the twelve years’ he had been in service at Great Northern Railway Company.”
Dr Macfayden gave evidence of the post-mortem carried out on the child’s remains, which failed to show the cause of death. It might have been caused by drowning or suffocation by smothering but the signs of drowning would disappear after a couple of weeks and the child had been buried for months. Dr H. Wilcox, Analyst for the Home Office, who analysed some of the child’s intestines, said the results of his tests were negative as to ascertaining the cause of the child’s death.
The Doctors’ testimonies closed the case for the Crown.
Frederick George Beeton took the stand. He stated he was a married man with three children, aged seven, five and one year respectively. Beeton straight away admitted having illicit sexual intercourse with the woman Rose Young and said he had paid her money.
On the night of the child’s disappearance Beeton described how the child was wrapped in a shawl. He said he then put it into his overcoat and carried it over his arm. His intention was to put the child on a train knowing it would be discovered and cared for.
It was three and a half miles from Rose Young’s house to Hitchin Train Station and after two miles, sometimes walking and sometimes running, he stopped at the golf links and realised it was too late to catch the train he had intended. Beeton said he was going to return the baby to its mother and tell her of his plan when he decided to check on the baby. Finding it didn’t move, he gave the body further inspection and found the little girl was dead. He realised he must have smothered her whilst running.
He hid the body at his workplace over the weekend, amongst piles of old letters and on the following Monday he buried it on his allotment and planted cabbages on top of it. He burned the child’s bonnet and shawl.
Mr Wild asked him why he had buried the child; Beeton replied that he hardly knew what to do, being in fear of being charged with the baby’s murder. He admitted stealing the child from the perambulator in Canning Town to cover up the death of his own child. In prison Beeton said he repeated the story to James Stockall but emphatically denied saying he had killed the child; of this matter he was adamant.
Mr Muir rose for the prosecution and questioned Beeton at length about his contact with the woman Rose Young. Beeton confessed to carrying on a deceptive correspondence with Rose Young and writing to her using a false name and pretending to be a single man. Beeton admitted to telling many lies and inventing all sorts of false stories but said he did it all to cover up the fact he was the father of an illegitimate child. Beeton acknowledged he had never told this story he was now presenting to the court, except to his solicitor. He denied saying to Stockall that he wished he had burnt the baby as well as her bonnet and shawl.
Answering a question from the Judge, Beeton said he had not felt the child struggle whilst he was carrying her. The Judge said he could not understand why the prisoner had not taken the child straight back to its mother, Rose Young ?
Beeton’s answer was because he had taken the child away from its mother under false pretences, she might accuse him of murder. If he had gone to doctor, he might have got a similar response. Beeton said he was so horrified he didn’t know what to do. It was an illegitimate child and he wanted to keep that a secret too. He had been lying to cover up ever since.
Mr Arthur Johnson, an Engineer, and County Councillor for Huntingdon, having been called as a witness to Beeton’s good character, the case for the defence was closed.
Mr Muir addressed the Jury, going over all the main points of the case, stressing Beeton’s continuous lies and fantasies. He spoke of the insidious way Beeton had lied to Rose Young. None of the letters he wrote to her mentioned he was a married man with three children. He even used a false name to cover his tracks. Mr Muir said there was plenty of motive in the case for the crime. The prisoner did not have the means to provide the child with a nursing home. The child had to be got rid of somehow, because Beeton wanted to keep its illegitimacy secret. This was far too clear a case for any such flimsy story to upset the evidence of the prosecution. If the prisoner’s story was an answer to the charge, no jury would ever convict. The prosecution speech lasted for over an hour.
Mr Wild made a powerful appeal to the jury on behalf of Frederick Beeton, which went on for an hour and a quarter. Mr Wild made a great point of dismantling the evidence given by Stockall and told the jury they, “could not possibly rely upon the evidence of such a miserable skunk.”
In his summing up, the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Alfreton commended both the defence and prosecution counsel for the way they had conducted the trial. It was his role to point out the salient parts of the evidence. After going over both sides, the Judge said this was not a court of morals and the jury were not there to convict the prisoner because he had been licentious and was an adulterer. The jury had to try him for one offence only ; the murder of his child. That was the question upon which they must concentrate their minds.
The Judge said it was true the prisoner had told a remarkable story that day for the first time and he had gone on lying to the very last but it was for the crown to satisfy the Jury beyond all reasonable doubt that the prisoner was guilty. If the Jury had any reasonable doubt they must not hesitate to give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt.
On the evidence provided by Thomas Stockall, Lord Alfreton said the jury could not act on the evidence of such a man without corroboration. His admissions were such that they could not believe him, having regard to his wickedness in another affair. There was however, one important fact about Stockall’s evidence; until Beeton told Stockall where the child was buried, not a living soul, besides the prisoner, knew where the child was buried. Therefore, that statement of Stockall’s must be considered as true, even if the Jury disregard the rest of his evidence. It was a sordid and terrible story but the Jury must not hesitate to do their duty, if they believed the case for the prosecution was proved.
After half an hour of deliberation, the Jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.”
Frederick Beeton was then arraigned on the minor charge of “burying the child without giving notice to the Registrar of Deaths, or the Coroner, or this Court.”
Mr Wild advised Beeton to plead guilty.
His Lordship sentenced Frederick Beeton to nine months’ in prison without hard labour.
N.B. There is some confusion in the report in the Hertfordshire Mercury concerning the evidence given by Mrs Read, the Matron at the Whitechapel Workhouse. It was claimed Mrs Read had said both Frederick Beeton and Rose had visited the workhouse in January to claim the child. I suspect their visit was in early December, 1909; and Rose was sent to try again by Beeton whilst he was on remand in January, 1910, for stealing the baby from Canning Town.
The outcome of the trial was one I least expected whilst I was reading the report of the case in the Hertfordshire Mercury. The paper reported that Thomas Stockall was the most important witness for the prosecution but I felt Alexander Borwell’s evidence of Beeton digging a deep hole amongst his cabbages, supposedly searching for clay, ten days before the child died, was under played by the prosecution. Surely this was the corroborative evidence asked for by the Lord Chief Justice.
Borwell also gave evidence that the hole dug by Beeton at least a week before the baby Margaret was killed, was in the same spot where her decomposed body was exhumed and pointed clearly to premeditation on the part of Beeton.
Had Frederick Beeton been found guilty, he would have been hanged by the neck for murder. It might have been the jury were reluctant to send a man to the gallows if a scrap of doubt was in their minds, perhaps placed there by the Judges directions. Had Beeton been hanged for the crime, he would have left a widow and three small children. It was 1910, two years before David Lloyd George’s welfare reforms; there wasn’t a social welfare system in place at all and little work for women out of service. Beeton’s widow and three young children would likely have been consigned to the workhouse and become a burden on the local taxes.
Another possible reason for the reluctance on the part of the jury to convict Beeton may have been the social attitude towards infant mortality at the time. Infant mortality rates amongst the young were far greater than today and perhaps society as a whole can be viewed as emotionally distanced from their children as a defence to lessen the blow should anything untoward occur. I have read of two cases where a girl in service as a maid had their child in secret and concealed their newborn child’s bodies, for fear of being cast out onto the street. The court constantly referred to the murdered victim as “the child” or more coldly, as “it”. Hardly ever is Margaret Ruby Anna Young referred to as a baby. In fact, Margaret was only 44 days old when her life was taken from her. Perhaps the term baby was seen as an emotive term but that’s what Margaret Ruby Anna was; an innocent baby.
Men were at the top of a hierchical order, which wasn’t based solely on the class structure. Women had yet to gain political suffrage and high child death ratios meant young children were often viewed as unlikely to survive. As the main breadwinners, men were treated differently from their wives, who were often considered to be no more than a husbands, “goods and chattel,” a hangover from dark ages past.