A heartless bigamist

Hertfordshire Mercury, 20th February 1915


At Hertfordshire Winter Assizes Charles James Burton (30), described as a contractor, was charged at Cheshunt with feloniously marrying Clarice Hester May Rawkins, at St Pancras, on 11th October, whilst his wife, Edith Kate Burton, was still alive.  The prisoner, a well-dressed man of good appearance, when charged, replied ‘Quite guilty’.

Mr St. John Hutchinson, who appeared for the prosecution, said that bigamy cases varied in their seriousness, but he felt bound to put this case forward as one of the utmost gravity.  The prisoner married in 1908 a very respectable girl, who at that time was earning her living in the city, and had been doing so since as secretary to a gentleman on the Stock Exchange.  They lived together at Hackney Wick, but in 1909 the prisoner was convicted and sentenced to six week’s imprisonment for larceny from his employers.

He afterwards went to the Church Army at Brixton, and was with them for a little time.  In 1912 he obtained a position as ledger clerk and got on well, but in 1913 he was charged with embezzling £10 from his employers, and was bound over on condition that he paid the money back and reported himself to the Court Missioner.  He failed to do either.  He then met this young lady, Miss Rawkins, at Southend.  She was also a girl of very superior education and parentage, and earned her own livelihood in the city as a typewriter.  The prisoner represented himself to her as a single man, and said he was in partnership with his father at a salary of £6 a week.  He told her that his father was a forage and agricultural contractor, but as a matter of fact he was a gentleman who collected manure with a horse and cart.  He also told her that he was a priest at various churches, and handed her what was purported to be a lay reader’s licence, signed by the Bishop of London, which signature, of course, was a forgery.

When the lady wanted to visit his parents he told her that his father had had a heart attack, that his mother was prostrate with grief, and that she was not able to do anything except attend to his father.  The prisoner told this lady that he preached at the church of St Mary Magdalene, Hackney Wick, and showed her a cassock, a surplice, a hood, and a girdle, which he pretended belonged to him.  Counsel said that he believed that the prisoner was in the choir at the church mentioned, and therefore was entitled to the cassock and surplice, but not to the other vestments.  He told her that he would make his will in her favour and give her £500.

In answer to the judge, counsel said the hood did not belong to Oxford or Cambridge, but he believed it was associated with St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, where the prisoner was educated.  The girl, Miss Rawkins, was of a very high moral character, and somewhat of a religious turn of mind, and was entirely taken in by the prisoner.

Counsel read the following letter to show the sort of things the prisoner wrote to her:

‘My very own precious sweetheart, what can I say to thank you for all that great trust and love you are giving me so very soon?  Dear heart’s treasure, words are an impossibility in our case: it is just heart to heart, and only our two selves can know and feel what it means to each other.  My dear, dear treasure, how I love you and thank God he has given this love that we may be so happy, and in the years to come, many, many years one hopes, I at least can prove to you by my devotion, love and care, that I am worthy of your love, which is so very dear to me: in fact, in life or death, no matter what trials may come our way, we will just join hands and hearts to God in prayer and ask to be comforted and guided by Him.  It is only in this way that we shall tread life’s road with any sense of security.  Darling, this is what one prays for now that you and I may be a real source of strength to each other, having no secrets, but just drawing up from the well of our hearts’ love, full confidence, and help, having no doubts or fears, doing nothing when away from each other that we cannot tell each other.  I look at you my dearest wife so soon to be, and you represent and stand for my honour.  That is the way I look and think about our love.  You sweetest of women, my life is in your keeping, and I give it in your charge knowing full well that there is no other on earth who will use it for the very best.  And so, darling wife, have no fear in this great step we are taking.  Your love must indeed be great and boundless for me, I will return my whole heart’s love and a lifelong devotion to you, and hand in hand on life’s rough way I will do all that is humanly possible to smooth things’.

Counsel, proceeding, said that whilst writing such passionate letters to this young woman, the prisoner was occasionally going back to his wife, and the night before the bogus marriage he actually stayed with her, and then the next morning took his Holy Communion with Miss Rawkins and was afterwards married by special licence at St Pancras, having sworn that he was a bachelor.

Having thus deceived and married the girl under the cloak of religion, he went to live with her at Cheshunt.  He, however, gave her no money, and instead took the money she was earning.  He got into such a state for lack of money that he made her pawn all the jewellery she had and all her ornaments.

Then when her mother came down to see them he got some pounds from her under the pretence that he had a £20 note he was unable to change, and went so far as to show the girl’s mother the plan of an alleged bungalow he was having built at Broxbourne, all of which was untrue.  Just before he was arrested the prisoner wrote to his real wife and said he had joined the Royal Naval Flying Corps as an observer, but went on to say he was suffering from pleurisy at Cambridge Hospital, and asked for £3, which she sent him.  Then his wife received a telegram purporting to to come from an officer at Cambridge informing her that her husband was going on all right, and had got through an operation successfully.  This money that he got from his wife he used to keep the other girl who he had fraudulently married.

Detective-Sergeant Stevens, of the Metropolitan Police, proved a previous conviction and sentence of six weeks’ for larceny, and another for the embezzlement of £71.  At that time the prisoner was engaged with an old-established firm in Commercial Street, and had got on so well that they gave him the substantial position of paying-out clerk.

Detective-Inspector Tritten said the prisoner made no effort to comply with the order to repay the money he had embezzled.  What little was paid came from his wife’s earnings, and when the firm found that out they refused to receive any more from that source.  He could not say one word in the prisoner’s favour.  For the past six years he had led a life of fraud.  He had defrauded both these young women, both of whom were very respectable, and had absolute confidence in the prisoner.  Even after his second downfall he made no attempt to start a new life.  The Church Army did everything they possibly could for him, as well as his friends.  His wife decided to leave him on 1st September, and on the 3rd September he met this second young lady and commenced an acquaintance which ripened into love and marriage, she believing he was what he represented himself to be  a lay reader.  He always wore the badge of the C.E.M.S., which naturally inspired confidence in him.  There was nothing that the police could say in his favour.  The witness had tried to find some good trait in the prisoner’s character, but he did not appear to have made the least attempt to amend his life.  By representing himself as a devout Christian he had succeeded in taking in these two young women.

The prisoner said he wished to express his extreme regret to Miss Rawkins.  He realised now how serious his crimes had been, but he would point out that after he was bound over and placed under the Court Missionary he found it exceedingly difficult to get any employment, because he had no character, and it would have been far better if he had been sentenced a second time, because then he would have got friends such as the Church Army to help him to get another situation.  Lies were not only told by him: he could prove that the young lady told him she was a widow.  She also said – but he thought he had better stop.

His Lordship said: ‘Nobody will believe you if you go on (laughter).  After hearing this history about you I do not believe a word you say.  The sentence upon you is one of 18 calendar months’ imprisonment’.


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