Her delusions led to the murdering of her husband

Hertfordshire Mercury, 24th August 1918


An inquest was held at St Albans on Tuesday on the body of Jonas Ellingham (61), a GNR stationmaster, whose wife Eliza Ellingham (58) was on Monday evening remanded on a charge of murdering her husband.

John Adolphus Ellingham, a son, giving evidence at the inquest, said that he had last seen his father alive on the Friday morning.  At 6 o’clock in the evening the witness called at the station house with the local paper for his father as usual but obtained no reply, although he had knocked on the door and rattled the letter-box.  Later, the witness was informed of what had taken place.

In answer to the Coroner, the witness said that his father’s death came as ‘half a surprise’.  He had heard his mother threaten his father many times.  The expression she used was that she would ‘do him in’.  She repeatedly accused his father of infidelity, but there was no reason for that.  His father was a hard-working man, constantly occupied with the business of the railway.  He had complained of being over-worked.  On Saturday, the witness received the following letter from his mother:-    “Dear Jack, Perhaps this what has happened will bring you all to your senses.  I will forgive you, Jack, as I know you were misled.  Good-bye.  God above knows what I have suffered”.  The letter was signed  “Your broken-hearted mother”.

John Blackley Archer, chief booking clerk at St Albans Station, stated that after Ellingham’s daughter had returned home and failed to get an answer, a ladder was procured and the goods clerk got through a window and admitted the witness by the front door.  There was a strong smell of gas in the scullery and Mrs Ellingham’s body was huddled up in a corner.  While she was being attended to, the witness went to the sitting room upstairs and found the husband lying dead on the floor with a wound in his head.  There was blood on the head and face, and a cushion and other covering over the head and body.  Ellingham was fully dressed.  The witness saw no sign of a struggle.

Sergeant Housden said that, whilst conveying Mrs Ellingham to the infirmary, she said “What is the good taking me there?  If I get better, they will only hang me.  I killed my husband, and have tried to kill myself by poison and gas, but I cannot die”.

Detective Sergeant Paine said that in a sideboard he had found a beer bottle which had contained spirits of salt.  He also found letters in Mrs Ellingham’s handwriting addressed to a daughter.  In a coal scuttle, there was a blood stained hammer.  Doctor Bates, who examined the body, said that he found 7 puncture wounds in the skull as if caused by a blunt instrument.  A blackening blood-clot on the face indicated that some acid had been poured over it.  He could not detect that Ellingham had taken any spirits of salt.

The Coroner said that death had resulted from repeated blows with a hammer.  The letters showed that Mrs Ellingham had suffered from delusions.  Jealousy had evidently resulted in homicidal mania, but there was not sufficient evidence to show the state of the woman’s mind.

The jury returned a verdict that Mrs Ellingham had committed a “wilful murder”.

At the Herts Assizes on 23rd November 1918, there was only one case left over for trial on the 2nd day, the Thursday, and that was the charge against Mrs Eliza Ellingham (58), of murdering her husband, Jonas Ellingham (61), the GNR stationmaster at St Albans, on 16th August.  The case did not last many minutes, for the accused was found unable to plead, and was ordered to be detained in custody during His Majesty’s pleasure.  Sir Patrick Rose-Innes KC, and Dr Burrows appeared for the Crown, and Mr Ronald Walker (instructed by Mr T. O. Hanway) was retained for the defence.

Sir Patrick Rose-Innes, addressing the Judge, said he understood there was some question as to whether the woman was in a fit state of mind to plead and, until that question had been decided, he did not propose to offer any evidence.  The medical evidence, he believed, would leave no doubt on the Judge’s mind that the prisoner was not in a position to give proper instructions for her defence.  Dr Francis Forward, Medical Officer of Holloway Prison, was called, and stated that he had had the prisoner under observation since 19th August, and he had many opportunities of inquiring into and forming an opinion as to the state of her mind.  Counsel asked  “Is she in your opinion in a sufficiently sane position to plead?”, and the witness responded  “I think she is fit to say whether she is guilty or not.”  The Judge said  “But we want more than that.  We want to know whether she is sufficiently sane to be able to instruct Counsel for her proper defence.”  The witness replied  “I don’t think she could to the full extent.”  The Judge said  “I think the mere fact of her being able to say guilty or not guilty is not sufficient.  You think she is not in a fit state of mind to give proper instructions for her defence at this trial?”, and the witness responded  “I think not.”

The Judge said to the jury  “You have to decide whether the prisoner is in a fit condition of mind to enable her to plead; that means whether she is in a fit condition to instruct counsel as to what her defence may be, and as to all the circumstances that took place.  I don’t think there is any reason to doubt the doctor’s evidence because he has had ample opportunity of keeping her under supervision, and in that tme ought to be quite able to judge.  If you accept his evidence you will find that the prisoner is unfit to plead.

The jury agreed that the prisoner was unfit to plead, and the Judge ordered her to be detained as stated.




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