British Murder

Charlotte Winsor – Torquay Murderess 1865

Mrs Charlotte Winsor

Here is a case I have been researching for a great many years. The appalling although not uncommon activity of women who would ‘look after’ children for a fee (and we are not talking about nannies here).

Now a lot of archive (including news reports) relating to the case of Mrs Winsor is transcribed and on-line. You might know I have been doing a similar exercise with John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee.

There is, despite a few historians arguing against this, several historically proven links between Lee and Winsor (I can never understand why some historians argue against and refuse to accept truth or a fact when public records can reinforce the fact!).

Anyway, before I head into a rant – back to the plot. There is a very real chance that Winsor and Lee were relatively closely related. The very real possibility that Mary Jane Harris (mother of the murdered child) was also a blood relative of John Lee, The Man They Couldn’t Hang. Also that Charlotte Winsor’s third husband, James Winsor, could also be related to Lee as well.

Then there’s the involvement of the South Devon lawyer, Isodore Carter in both cases and many other local factors (legal and otherwise) that draw these two together. The fact that Winsor, although a convicted killer, narrowly escaped the gallows just as Lee survived three executions.

You can see my work on Winsor – all based on transcribed archive, here.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Waltham Abbey Murder – 1797

Hereford Journal - Wednesday 05 July 1797

Hereford Journal – Wednesday 05 July 1797

Ann Gray was the proprietor of a public-house at the market town of Waltham Abbey in Essex.  Late one evening in May 1797 after serving two men in her bar she was trying to close up.  She had already been a little nervous of these two and asked for one of her lodgers who was a carpenter to wait downstairs with her until after they had gone.

Mrs. Gray had every right to be worried. After serving the men an extra pint a fight ensued and she lost her life.  According to the Hereford Journal – Wednesday 20 September 1797 in a letter written by a William Harling, it was Robert Harold and Frederick Upham who were the two men who were found guilty of the murder.  The letter claimed though that it was Harling himself who killed Mrs. Gray.

Hereford Journal – Wednesday 05 July 1797:


The particulars are given in evidence before the Coroner, respecting the murder of Ann Gray who kept the public-house at Waltham Abbey, differing from the former statements, we are induced to insert them.  They are as follow:

“On the 6th of May at last, about 9.00 PM, two men, perfect strangers, went to The Three Compasses, and had some beer and bread and cheese, with pipes and tobacco; they sat about an hour and as half, when Mrs. Gray told them they must go, for that it was time to shut up the house; to which they replied they would have another pint of beer, and then they would go, which they had; when the shortest of the two men said to the other, “Will you pay, or shall I?” To which the other answered, “I’ll pay,” and instantly jumped up, drew a pistol, and presented it towards Mrs. Gray.

Hereford Journal - Wednesday 20 September 1797

Hereford Journal – Wednesday 20 September 1797 – William Harling confession through the newspapers

A carpenter who lodged in the house, and who Mrs. Gray had requested not to go to bed till the men were gone, the media the threw his arms round of the man who held the distal, to prevent him from firing it; the turning his head round, saw the other man draw pistol, upon which he attacked that man, and drove him out of the room, where he left Mrs. Gray and the other man; soon after the pistol went off in the hand of the man with whom he was scuffling, which slightly wounded the carpenter on the wrist, upon which the carpenter army deadly ran up stairs to call some more men who were in bed, and who came down as soon as possible, but the men were both gone, having first shot Mrs. Gray through the left hand which was shattered in pieces and one finger shot off: and by another pistol she was shot just above the left breast, where the ball entered and went through the lungs, and out of the lower end of the shoulder blade.

The poor woman retained her recollection until within a few minutes of her death.”

Ian Waugh
Old British Murder

Alleged Murder by Strychnine – 1863

Old British Murder

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper – Sunday 01 November 1863

The deaths of two children in Edgware London caused suspicion during proceedings in 1863.  The parents were separated – the father sometime before had ran off following an offence of which he was wanted, the mother had sold most of her possessions and had left the neighbourhood.  When an expert examined the stomach contents of one of the children it is possible that he had found very small traces of strychnine.  It was impossible in 1863 to positively identify the chemical as the quantity was so very small.  Suspicion also rose when it would appear that the mother had purchased some poison locally, although that could have been used for something around the house such as rat poison.  But there was no actual evidence to show that the two children had died as a result of poisoning.  The coroner left of the case open and recorded a verdict of “death by convulsions”.  Despite extensive research, so far, at the time of writing, no further archive has surfaced in relation to this case.  No further reports have been discovered in the press and therefore one would assume that in the fullness of time this case sadly was closed.

The Alleged Murder Of A Child By Strychnine.

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Bird resumed at the Red Lion Tavern Kingsbury, near Edgware, the investigation into the circumstances of the death of Elizabeth Clarke, aged four years.

It will be remembered that the deceased died under every appearance of having been poisoned by strychnine.  The mother had sold her furniture, and left the neighbourhood.  The father had previously absconded, in consequence of being “wanted on a charge of stealing a carpet belonging to a surgeon, named Evans, who had been in attendance at another child of the Clarke’s.

Upon there resumption of the inquiry, the following additional evidence was taken: –

Police Constable Alfred Tuckwell, 31 S, said that on the 31st of October he made a strip search in the house on premises occupied by Mrs. Clarke.  He examined of the shed, garden, and under closet, but was unable to find any articles of linen.  He found two phials in the back parlour, and two others in the front parlour.  He found two other bottles.  He took them all to Mr. Blasson, who examined them, an identified two of them as having been supplied by himself.  Nothing could be found in the garden.

Mr Blasson, MRCS, said that one of the bottles labelled poison, and a second, had been sent by himself to the Clarkes.  One labelled poison contained a liniment, the other a syrup.  He could not tell what the contents of the other bottles were.  He thought one of them contained eye water.

Mr. W Crooks, 20, Mornington road, said that he was a fellow of the Royal Society, and of the Chemical Society.  He received from Mr Blasson to jars containing the stomach and contents of the deceased child and the kidneys.  He made an analysis and found in them a minute quantity of volatile base which had the characteristic odour, and as far as he had been enabled to test it, the Chemical Properties of the active principle of hemlock.  The contents of the stomach were about a teaspoonful, and the quantity of that which was obtained from it was so minute that he could not possibly test it’s action upon an animal.  From the peculiar nature of the poison, and at the time that had now elapsed, and also the favourable opportunity he already had of testing, he did not think a further analysis of portions of the same body (interests times and so on) would yield further evidence.  The quantity of poison which he found was certainly not sufficient to cause death.  It could not have poisoned or mouse.  –By the coroner: there might have been a greater quantity of poison in the stomach, but which have passed off after doing the mischief, by vomiting or by purging.  The poison was a vegetable one, and it was a difficult one to discover by tests after the lapse of time.  Hemlock was a strong narcotic, and might have produced the tetanic twitching described by one of the witnesses.  He could not say that what he found was actually hemlock.

The coroner then summed up.  He said it was to be regretted that there was no further evidence in the case.  He directed the jury to dismiss from their minds all they might have heard respecting the death of another child of the Clarkes, about rumours of foul play had been in circulation.  In the present case, however suspicious it might be, the evidence failed to show the death had actually resulted from poison, or that any individual had administered poison.  The chamber was in a most filthy state, and almost unfit to live in and that might have been the cause of the convulsions.  At all events, no poison or whatever had been found – there was only a suspicion that there was hemlock in the stomach.  By returning an open verdict, merely stating that death resulted from convulsions, but not as to how they arose, the case could be reopened at any time before the magistrates, if additional evidence should turn up.

The court was then cleared, and, after some deliberation, the foreman said: The jury regards the case as full of suspicion, and wish a verdict to be framed which will allow of its being reopened in further circumstances come to light.

The coroner then registered a verdict of “Death from convulsions,” and remarked that the circumstances of the deaths of the two children of the Clarkes were most suspicious.

The police have not yet been able to trace either of the Clarkes.  There was no truth in the statement that the body of the child the first died is to be exhumed.  The post mortem examination was made at the time of the death, and no poison was found.

Ian Waugh
Old British Murder

Robert Allen Coombes – Mother murderer – 1895

Illustrated Police News - Saturday 27 July 1895 - Reporting the murder of Emily Coombes by her 13 year old son, Robert.

Illustrated Police News – Saturday 27 July 1895 – Reporting the murder of Emily Coombes by her 13 year old son, Robert.

Illustrated Police News - Saturday 27 July 1895 - Reporting the murder of Emily Coombes by her 13 year old son, Robert.

Illustrated Police News – Saturday 27 July 1895 – Reporting the murder of Emily Coombes by her 13 year old son, Robert.

During the early hours, at about 4.00 AM, on July 8, 1895, 13 year old Robert Allen Coombes entered his mother’s bedroom and stabbed Emily Harriet Coombes to death. It happened at their house at 35 Cave Road, Plaistow in East London. The weapon he had used had been a knife that he had bought specifically to kill her.


  • Old Bailey proceedings here.

During the day after the murder Robert Coombes and his younger brother, Nathaniel George Coombes, left their mother’s corpse where the murder had happened on Emily’s bed whilst the two boys went to watch a game of cricket at Lords.

Their father was a steward on a transatlantic liner and was in New York at the time. The murder itself was not discovered for 10 days during which time the two boys went on a spending spree with the housekeeping money their father had left during his time away. Indeed, whilst the body of Emily was lying unmoved and undiscovered Robert and Nathaniel went about taking taxi’s, living the high life and dining out.

Eventually Emily’s sister-in-law forced her way into the house and discovered the body. At the same time Robert admitted to committing the crime in a veiled attempt to shift some of the blame onto Nathaniel. From all accounts they had arranged some form of signal so that Robert could go ahead and stab Emily, their mother.

Illustrated Police News - Saturday 27 July 1895Nathaniel was eventually acquitted at the Old Bailey during which time the truly shocking circumstances of the events were revealed and widely reported.

Much of the reasoning behind this violent crime was the appetite of these boys for the sensational articles, of which they collected, so frequently found in the Penny Dreadfuls.

Robert Allen Coombes, from what I had discovered, apparently served 18 years under close mental supervision and was, presumably, released back into society in 1913 although to date there is very little evidence of what actually became of him. As for Nathaniel he too disappears off the radar after the court case in 1895 – although there is a vague possibility (as yet unconfirmed) that he could have moved to Australia some years later.

more data and news archive here soon.


Annie Robinson – Mercury Poisoner

Sheffield Evening Telegraph - Thursday 12 December 1895

Sheffield Evening Telegraph – Thursday 12 December 1895

Annie Robinson, the woman who poisoned her husband in 1895 by administering him with mercury (if you are slightly squeamish you are advised that some of this report contains material that you might find distressing).

Annie Robinson (38), it turns out, had constantly lied in court, claiming her father was recently deceased and of course denying that she had administered any poison to her elderly and much older husband with 56. Mr. Robertson it turns out was of “considerable means” and his wife was threatening to leave him unless he made out a will leaving all his property to her. Mr. Robinson died in Bolton in 1907. So far I have found no record of his probate or a will:

Charge Of Husband Poisoning
Sensational Huddersfield Case
Trial At Leeds Assizes

At Leeds assizes today Mr. Justice Grantham took his seat on the bench at 10.30. At that time Annie Robinson was in the dock. In the calendar she was described as a married woman, 38 years of age, and she was indicted for having feloniously administered to her husband, Rowland Robinson, by certain metallic poison, with intent to murder him, at Huddersfield. Mr. Banks and Mr. Whittaker Thompson prosecuted. Prisoner had not engaged counsel, but at the request of the judge Mr. Barlow defended her. The accused was allowed to sit during the trial.

The prisoner on being charged pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Banks opened the case. He said the charge was a very serious one, the prisoner being charged with having Attempted To Murder Her Husband by by poisoning, yet there was no wart real difficulty in the case. The facts which the prosecution would label for the jury were so plain that they would cause them a little difficulty in arriving at a verdict. The prisoner and her husband were married on the 7th of January in this year. The prosecutor, who was a spinner, was about 50 VII years of age, and the jury we’ll see how old the prisoner was. The parties lived together in Huddersfield for some months, apparently on pleasant terms. During those months the prisoner went away from home twice. At Easter she left the house for the purpose, and she said, to see her brother married, and again in August, she on this occasion saying she was going to see her father, who was dying. When she returned she said that her father was dead. At the same time She Refused To Cohabit Any More with her husband. Up to then the husband had been a perfectly healthy man. He had never had a day’s illness, except he had suffered from polypus in his ear, which, however, had been removed by the doctor. The prosecutor asked the prisoner the reason that she did not intend to sleep with him, and she said that he was “breaking up,” and was “rotten.” Moreover, she said that the body of her father, who as she alleged, had just died, was quite “clammy,” which meant another death in the family, vix., her husband.

It would, however, be proved in evidence that the statement about the death of the prisoners father was a lie; The Father Was Still Alive.

On Saturday, the 24th of August, the prisoner and her husband went out to tea at the house of an aunt of the latter, named her Bridget Robinson, with whom lived her son, James Robinson. The prisoner and her husband returned home from the aunt’s house being accompanied by James Robinson, and had supper. The prisoner afterwards went out shopping. On that night, after he had been in bed sometime, the prosecutor was awakened by violent pains. He was seized with of violent vomiting and purging, and remained there for about half an hour. His wife did not seem to have gone to him, but she evidently came down and looked out from the passage, for he appeared to have spoken to her, and told her to go in –he would be in presently. This was on August 24, and on the next day, Sunday, He Was Apparently No Better, and he continued to be ill until the Tuesday, when he felt so bad that he said he would have the doctor sent for. Dr. Demetrindi was called in, and examined the patient, whom he had continued to attend a until the present time. From August 27 to September 14 the symptoms seem to have recurred every other day, and during the whole of the time the prisoner was nursing him, nobody else being in the house. The doctor would tell the jury that the symptoms he saw during that time were consistent with poisoning by means of mercury. There were three ways in which mercury might be administered as a poison –one in the form of calomel, one in the form of corrosive sublimate, and the other in the form of white precipitate. The prosecution submitted that the form in which the mercury had been conveyed into the man’s system was By Means Of White Precipitate.

During all this time the doctor had tried to obtain samples of the man’s vomit and excreta. The first time he asked for it was on the second or third day he saw Robinson, but this request was not complied with, and after two or three days he asked again. None had been secured for him, but the prisoner promised to grant his request. She again promised to do so. Next day he asked if the promise had been fulfilled, but it had not. He asked again on a subsequent day, when the woman told him she had saved some but it was so offensive that she had to throw it away.

That was her conduct when the doctor was pointing out to her in order to see what was the matter with her husband he must be able to satisfy himself as to what was in the vomit and in the motion. On the 14th of September the doctor thought this had gone on so long that The Man Should Have A Trained Nurse and a trained nurse was got from Miss Jackson’s Nurses’ Home, in Leeds. Kathleen Clumpion was her name, and she took over the charge of Rowland Robinson from the prisoner. The result was a steady improvement straight away, and not until nearly a fortnight did the symptoms return. The first thing done by the nurse was to save one of the man’s motions. He gave that to the doctor the second day she was there. The doctor took it to the Analyst of Huddersfield, and, on analysing it that official found in it a quantity of mercury. That was conclusive that before the nurse arrived on the scene somebody had been administering mercury to him, and was consistent with the signs the doctor said he found during the whole of the time he had been in attendance of poisoning by means of mercury.


Dundee Courier – Friday 13 December 1895