Suspected child murder at Hitchin

Hertfordshire Mercury, 8th May 1915


An inquest on the body of the child, apparently 3 months old, which was found wrapped up in a brown paper parcel on Windmill Hill, Hitchin, last Thursday, under circumstances reported in our last issue, was held before Mr Francis Shillitoe (coroner), at the Police Station on Friday evening, and was adjourned for a fortnight.

Harry Knight, of 2 Cannon’s Cottages, described the finding of the body.  Harry Bird, who was with him, opened the parcel and told him there was a baby in it.  Just then a woman came along the path going in the direction of the town, and the witness called out to her that there was a dead baby in the parcel.  She replied ‘Oh, is there? I’ll go and see if I can see a policeman.’  The witness never saw her again.  She was 30 yards away when he called out.

In reply to questions, the witness said that the woman did not seem flurried; she seemed afraid.  He had no idea who she was, but she was between 45 and 50.  She was not carrying anything, and he did not think she could have put the parcel there before he saw it.  The child was fully clothed when the parcel was opened.  The paper was not torn in any way.

Harry Bird, of 6 Lyle’s Row, Hitchin, stated that the woman was dressed in a dark grey costume with black hat, and she was accompanied by a black dog.  In the witness’s opinion the parcel had only recently been placed where Knight found it.

In reply to various jurymen, the witness stated that when he saw the woman she was approaching the spot, not going away.  The body was just inside the fence, and the rails being wide apart it could be easily seen.

Sergt. Boarder stated that no woman had reported the occurrence to the police.

Sergt. Steel gave evidence as to receiving the body from the lads.  The parcel was tied with the leather strap (produced).  The child was fully dressed, but in a nightdress, and was wearing a woollen bonnet.  Dr W.P. Grellet was sent for and he examined the body.

Dr W.P. Grellet stated that he found no marks of violence, but it was his opinion that the child was alive between two and four hours before he saw it.  He found three vaccination marks, forming a triangle, and in his opinion it had been vaccinated about six days.  It had, certainly, received every attention from birth, and was well nourished.  From his post-mortem examination he would say it was from four to six weeks old.

The vaccination dressing had undoubtedly been applied that morning, and was done by a qualified person.  He formed the opinion that death was caused by suffocation.  There was no evidence of poisoning, and if anything had been stuffed into the mouth it had been taken out again before the child was wrapped up.  He fully believed the child had had a meal between two and four hours before it had been found.  There were no signs of a fit, nor had it been strangled.  The doctor added: ‘I think the child was done to death by having a pillow placed over its mouth or a hand placed there.  It was dead before it was put in the parcel.

The Foreman: ‘Are you sure the child did not die from natural causes?’  ‘Possibly it did, I will not commit myself, but the post-mortem points to suffocation’.

A Juror: ‘Will you give a certificate for a death by natural causes?’  ‘No, certainly not’.

At this stage the inquiry was adjourned to Friday evening, May 14.

Since the inquest the police have been making active inquiries but without success, and the theory is now held that the child comes from outside the district, and with a view to establishing the identity of the parents the authorities have invoked the aid of the press, requesting that a full description of the child should be published.

The description is as follows: Age about six weeks; brown hair; grey eyes; been vaccinated about six days, three marks (one at top and two at bottom); over vaccination a piece of cotton wool and boracic lint fastened with two pieces of sticking plaster; dressed with flannel binder with black selvedge edge; white stockingette vest fastened with strings; white back flannel, white head flannel with white binding; white calico nightdress; two napkins of Turkish towelling; and a white woollen bonnet (costing about 1s. 6d.) with white silk strings.

The police request that all doctors in the neighbourhood, midwives or nurses, who may have assisted at the birth of a female child during the past eight weeks, or who may have dressed a female child’s vaccination in the manner described on the morning of Thursday last should communicate with them at once.

This page was added on 11/12/2014.

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