Offence: Killing > murder
Verdict: Guilty > with recommendation
Punishment: No Punishment > sentence respited
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MESSRS. POLAND and MONTAGU WILLIAMS Prosecuted; MESSRS. WARNER SLEIGH and FULTON Defended.
CHRISTINA WILDDERSPIN . I am the wife of Benjamin Wilderspin, a tailor, of 60, Walton Street, Chelsea—the prisoner came to lodge there on 4th May, and continued there till the 26th—she brought two children with her, a boy, named Willie, and a girl, Laura, but no man—the girl was about 4 year of age and the boy under 2 years, a year and a half, I fancy; he could not walk—I knew the prisoner as Mrs. Pleasance—she told me she had lodged in Trevor Square before coming to our place—when she first came the said she was going to take the boy to his aunt at Cambridge—on Saturday morning I got up at 8, and then found that the prisoner and the boy were gone; the girl was left at home—the prisoner came back alone—I did not see the boy again—on Wednesday, the 26th, I saw the prisoner and the little girl together until dinner-time, about 2 o'clock—the child was playing—Inspector White had been before she went out, and had seen her—I did not see the little girl alive again after about 3 o'clock—I did not see them go out—I saw the prisoner again that same night in one of the cells at the Walton Street Police-station, and had a short conversation with her—I said "Why did you not say something to me before you went out about taking Laura away"—she said she loved her children too well to leave them to the
mercy of the world—I think those were the exact words—I did not take her a change of clothes; I sent her some dry things off her bed to wrap round her; that was after 12 o'clock—Constable Leeson had been to me, and it was in consequence of that that I sent some dry things to the cell—I was there when she changed them; I helped to change them—the clothes she took off were very wet—when she said she loved her children too well to leave them to the mercy of the world, she said "I have drowned Laura; she died in my arms without a struggle; she was asleep at the time"—she also said she had tried to drown herself—Laura was a very healthy child—after the interview in the cell I went to the mortuary in Old Battersea, and there identified the body of Laura; she was then undressed; I saw the clothes; they were the same I had seen her wearing on the Wednesday—I always thought she was an affectionate mother to the children—I had more opportunity of seeing the girl than the boy—she was to pay 2s. 6d. a week rent; she had only one room—she paid 2s.—she offered my husband half a crown, and would have paid that, only we had no change—it was our fault that it was not paid.
Cross-examined. I first became acquainted with the prisoner four summers ago—at that time she was then living with Poole; I knew him as Mr. Pleasance; I did not know him as Poole—at that time she appeared to be contented and happy—I had no opportunity of seeing them together—he worked for my husband four summers ago—I then lost sight of them, until my husband met her just before she came to us—she was an industrious, hard-working woman four summers ago—when she came on 4th May I noticed that she was changed in her appearance; she was much thinner in the face, and she appeared to be labouring under great mental anxiety and depression of mind—she told me the cause to a certain extent—she appeared very much depressed and upset about Pleasance being taken away from her and put in an asylum—her altered circumstances was one of her sources of worry—I don't know of my own knowledge what their circumstances were—she was very scantily fed while with us—I have given the children food because they had not sufficient—she was unable to support herself and children until she obtained work—she was very anxious to obtain work; her not being able to do so was one of her troubles—she went out on several occasions searching for employment—she often talked of the change in her circumstances I think it preyed on her mind—on the day on which the boy left home the prisoner came home about tea-time—a person named Tanner came and gave me 5s. for her that same evening between 6 and 7, or later; I can't fix the hour—she told me that was a portion of money that was owing to her—this was on the Saturday—as far as I know up to that time she had been unable to get any work—I gave her the 5s. as soon as I received it—she offered to pay my husband half a crown for the first week's rent, next morning—she had two days' work in the week before she was arrested; as far as I know that was the only work she had—when I saw her in the cell on the morning of the 27th her hat was wet and her hair was wet, not dripping wet—the water was not pouring down her body; her under-clothing was thoroughly wet all over—I was examined on two occasions at the police-court—on the second occasion, when I was cross-examined by Mr. Dutton as to the conversation in the cell, I said something of this kind, "I wish I had seen you before you went out; I would have told you not to have done this," and I
believe the prisoner replied, "Never mind, poor little Laura is better off; I loved my child too well to leave it to the mercy of the world"—I said "I know you loved your child"—I can't recollect exactly what I said; it was something like that—I would not like to be perfectly sure whether she said "I loved my child too well," or "I loved my children too well," but I think it was "children."
Re-examined. All the time the prisoner was lodging with me she attended in the usual way to the household duties—she dressed the children every day, and attended to her room, and tried to get work—being in bad circumstances, she was low spirited—she had dressed Laura on the Wednesday—Tanner, who brought the 5s. for her, was a former landlord, where they lived in Arthur Street—I gave it her and told her who had left it—she said she wished that I had called her that she might have seen him.
BENJAMIN LEESON . (Policeman B 393). On Wednesday night, 26th May, about 1/2 past 12 o'clock, I was in Walton Street, Chelsea, watching opposite No. 60, in plain clothes—I had been watching there since about 1/4 to 2 o'clock in the afternoon—I did not see the prisoner till about 1/2 past 12 o'clock; she was then standing in the New Head, opposite Ovington Square, about 80 yards from No. 60, under the shadow of the gaslight, alone—I said, "Are you locked out"—she said, "No"—I said, "Did you have a little girl with you when you left home this afternoon—she laid, "Yes"—I said, "And your name is Mrs. Pleasance, is it not?"—she said, "Yes"—I said, "And where is your little girl now?"—she said, "Dead, in the water in Battersea Park, I drowned it, it died in my arms without a straggle"—I said, "Can it be true what you say?"—she said, "Yes, my poor Laura is in Heaven now, I hope"—I said, "Where is the little boy?" (Mr. Sleigh interposed, and as the fate of the boy was the subject of another indictment, he considered it should not be alluded to on the present charge. Mr. Justice Hawkins could not exclude the evidence, it being part of t)ie conversation between the prisoner and the witness, but the Jury would understand it would not affect the present inquiry)—she said, "I will say nothing of the little boy"—I said, "The matter is serious, be careful what you say as I shall have to repeat your words; you will have to go to the station with me"—she said, "Yes, I will go quietly"—I said, "I feel truly sorry for you"—she said, "You would if you knew my troubles"—I then took her to the station and handed her over to the custody of Inspector White—I noticed that her clothes were wet, I believe all over, her hat and hair were also wet—on Thursday, the 27th, I took her from the police-court to the prison in a cab—she made a statement which I afterwards put down, as soon as I had lodged her in the prison, and this is the note I made—she said, "Do you know who employed Mr. Dutton" (he had appeared for her before the Magistrate at the first hearing) "Is he for the prosecution or the defence?" I said, "For the defence."—she said, "I do not know the name, who he said employed him; I do not want the friends of the father of my children brought into the matter at all, as his sister and mother have been very kind to me, and they cannot help what I have done."—I said, "Do be careful what you say as I shall have to make use of your words; I don't ask you to My anything, and whatever you say it will be voluntary"—she said, "Mrs. Baird is a bad woman, and it was through her that my husband was taken away from me." She made some further statement about the other child, and then she said, "Young Mr. Wilcox was living with us in Trevor Square
a short time before my husband was taken away; he remained with me a short time after my husband left, and has visited me several times at Walton Square; he took a portmanteau away three weeks ago; I loved my children; they have cried for food, and I could not see it again, for I love them too much to leave them behind me.
Cross-examined. I was in the passage outside the cell when Mrs. Wilderspin was with the prisoner on the morning of the 27th of May—I don't remember speaking to Mrs. Wilderspin about the conversation she had with the prisoner—I have no recollection of asking her the exact words which the prisoner used—I don't believe I did—I swear I did not—I have no recollection of it—I really could not swear it, because I don't know—I had no reason for asking it—I was not trying to listen to the conversation, I was standing against the door, and had the door in my hand—I hare no recollection of asking Mrs. Wilderspin whether the prisoner said "child" or "children"—I might have said so, but I have no recollection of doing so—I wrote the words about loving the children, at the same time I wrote the rest, but I left those words out at first and added them afterwards, but at the same time—a photograph was taken of the head of the little boy; I had it in my possession—Mrs. Baird was taken to the mortuary to identify the head; I had shown her the photograph before she went there.
Re-examined. I took several persons to the mortuary to see if they could identify the head, and I showed the photograph to different persons for the purpose of making inquiry to find out whose head it was.
SQUIRE WHITE (Police Inspector E). On Wednesday, 22nd May, about half-past 2 o'clock in the afternoon, I went to No. 60, Walton Street, and saw the prisoner there—I had a conversation with her; I made a note of it, which I have here—I made some inquiry of her about the little boy who was missing, and she made a statement to me—I told her I was an Inspector of Police—there was a little girl standing by the side of her at the time, apparently about four years of age; she was dressed, and stood alongside of the prisoner, playing about; she appeared to be quite well—I was talking with the prisoner about five minutes—she appeared to understand my questions, and answered very freely; she did not hesitate at all—I afterwards gave directions to Constable Leeson to watch the house—I saw the prisoner again about half-past 12 o'clock that same night, standing in Walton Street; Leeson was there—I gave him some directions; I went a short distance and then I was fetched back to the police-station—the prisoner was there in custody—I took her into the Inspector's office—I saw that she wag wet—I said "Your clothes are wet"—she then said "I have drowned my poor,"—mentioning some name which I did not exactly catch, "she is past your reach"—I said "Where?"—she repeated "In Battersea Park, near the boats"—I noticed that all the lower part of her clothes were very wet, up to her chest; I did not feel to see whether they were wet further up; I did not notice her hat—I left her at the station and went immediately to the waters in Battersea Park, and on searching there I found the body of a female child floating in the water about eight yards from the edge, and between 300 and 400 yards from where the pleasure boats are, the water goes round—I went in a boat—the child was dressed; it had not a hat on; it appeared to be a child about 4 years of age; it was quite dead—I few it and rubbed it, and endeavoured to get life into it, but there was no sign, and I immediately took it to Dr. Kempster's house in a cab—he pronounced
it to be quite dead—it was about a quarter past 2 o'clock when I found the child, and very nearly 3 o'clock when I showed it to Dr. Kempster—to the best of my belief it was the same child that I had seen that afternoon with the prisoner—the body was taken to the mortuary by another officer, and I afterwards saw it there—I produce a certificate of the birth of Constance Pleasance, on 10th November, 1876, and also that of a boy named William on 5th October, 1878.
JANET BAIRD . I am a widow, and live at 17, Trevor Square, Knightsbridge—at the end of March, 1879, the prisoner came to live there with a man who I knew as Mr. Pleasance—they lived as husband and wife, and had two children, a girl named Laura, and a boy called Willie—they occupied two rooms on the drawing-room floor—the man left on 1st May—the parish officials had been communicated with and he was taken away by them as being insane—he was a French polisher—they were in very poor circumstances from Christmas—the prisoner left my place on 4th May with the children; she carried the boy and the little girl walked by her side—she paid 8s. 6d. a week rent—I went to the mortuary on 26th May, and there saw the body of the child Laura.
Cross-examined. The rooms they rented were unfurnished; they famished them themselves—the prisoner was a hard-working industrious woman as far as I saw—I cannot say that she and her husband were much attached to each other—the prisoner was very good to the children and was very fond of them as far as I saw—I believed that the prisoner was married to the man, up to last Christmas; she behaved herself in a respectable and proper manner—up to last Christmas the man had regular work, after that it fell off and they began to be in very different circumstances—I think the prisoner took in a little needle-work about Christmas time; she was very anxious to get work and did all she possibly could to get it—I think it troubled her very much not getting it; she seemed very despondent after Christmas—she treated the children well and was particularly careful in their dress—she took a pride in them—after Mr. Pleasance was taken away his brother came and took the property belonging to him; he paid the rent that was due to me and left her enough to furnish one room, a very small amount—the best part of everything was taken from her by the brother.
GEORGE WILCOX . I am a French polisher, of 5, Rutland Street, Brompton—I knew the prisoner when she lived at 17, Trevor Square—I lived there at the same time—I knew the man who lived with her; his real name was John Poole, but they lived there as Mr. and Mrs. Pleasance—I worked for Poole—I stayed there till the 1st May—I knew the children Laura and Willie—on Thursday, 6th May, I went to Walton Street and saw Willie—I never saw him afterwards—at that time Poole had been taken away, out of his mind—the girl Laura was playing in the yard—on Wednesday, 12th May, I again saw Laura; that was the last time I saw her alive—I did see the body at that time—I afterwards saw the body of Laura at the mortuary.
Cross-examined. Poole had known me from childhood; he and the prisoner had lived together as husband and wife for a few years, I don't know exactly how long—they were very fond of each other and lived happily together as far as I ever saw—she was very fond of her children; she did everything to keep them nice and clean—he worked regularly up
to Christmas, but I was not living at the house then, I went about the second week in March—she did not do any work herself while I was there; she seemed perfectly happy and contented until this change came—she then became more despondent and miserable—she complained to me after he was taken away of the difficulty of getting work; she appeared very anxious to get work, but appeared almost hopeless of getting it—she looked haggered and careworn.
WILLIAM HENRY KEMPSTER . I am a M.R.C.S. and lire at Oak House, Battersea—on Thursday morning, 27th May, between 2.30 and 3 o'clock, Inspector White brought me the body of a female child, apparently between three and four years of age; it was dead and cold, the rigor mortis had set in—in my judgment she had been dead several hours, probably five or six—there was no decomposition—she was beyond all medical aid—I made a post mortem examination on 31st; there was no sign of disease or any marks of violence—the stomach contained partly-digested food—in my judgment the cause of death was suffocation—if she had been put into the water and kept under until death took place that would produce the appearance I saw—in cases of ordinary drowning we generally find a frothy mucus about the mouth, in this case there was none—if a person was kept under the water until death took place I should not expect to find it, spasm of the glottis would ensue, and you would not find it.
Cross-examined. Supposing the woman had thrown herself into the water with the child, intending to drown herself, and had fallen down and so the child had been kept under water there would be no frothy mucus; what I mean is that the child must have been kept under water for sometime, from one to three minutes—I have had some experience of pregnant women—I have no knowledge myself of this woman's condition—when a woman is pregnant she is more likely to have local determination of blood—they are local determinations to the uterus principally—I cannot say that I have read Montgomery on the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, but I have had a large experience in those cases—I have read extracts of a book by Esquinol, but I must protest against being examined over the whole range of medicine; if you will ask me as to my own knowledge and experience I will answer you—with some pregnant women the cerebral disturbance amounts to a disorder of the intellectual faculties; some are subject to phantacies; in some exceptional cases they amount to a pervension of judgment, which sometimes becomes violently maniacal—I cannot say that the gloomy and desponding state is greater in the earlier stages of pregnancy than in the later—I have not observed it—there is a tendency to insanity amongst certain pregnant women—that tendency would be very much strengthened by trouble—want of sleep would be a collateral cause; the loss of dearly beloved friends might be; indeed any mental anxiety—sometimes the mental disturbance is so great that women will eat things which under other circumstances they would regard with loathing, and they will regard with antipathy persons for whom they entertain the greatest affection—the whole moral nature, in some exceptional cases, is changed.
WILLIAM SMILES . M.D., M.R.C.S. I am medical officer at the House of Detention—I have been there nearly 40 years, but have actually been surgeon there about 20 years—I saw the prisoner during the week she was there—I saw her several times during that period, and I conversed with her, but not to any great extent, as my opinion had not been asked about
her—I saw her as any other patient—I was not able to detect the slightest sign of insanity.
Cross-examined. As far as I know she is perfectly sane at this moment; I saw nothing like insanity about her—I suppose it is possible for a person to do an act in an insane moment and be perfectly sensible Boon after, but it is not very common—sometimes pregnant women take violent antipathies—in a few cases the physical disturbance may overthrow the mental faculties; it is very rare—I do not think that the tendency to the anticipation of evil is greater in the earlier stages of pregnancy; it is not my experience; I think they get more depressed as time goes on.
JOHN ROWLAND GIBSON . I am surgeon of Her Majesty's gaol of Newgate—I hate been so 25 years—I have had a large experience with male and female prisoners, and in cases of insanity—the prisoner has been in Newgate from 3rd June to the present time—I have seen her almost from day to day and conversed with her many times, especially with a view to ascertain the state of her mind—during the whole of the time she has been in Newgate, in my judgment she has been perfectly sane—I have seen no indications of insanity.
Cross-examined. A severe domestic affliction is one of the proximate causes of insanity—any great mental trouble may be the proximate cause of insanity; the loss of relatives or friends might be, or great pecuniary loss in some cases, long watching, great anxiety, and want of sleep, anything that tends to exhaust the nervous system—I should consider a combination of such causes, coupled with pregnancy, sufficient to account for derangement of mind—in pregnancy the moral judgment and intellectual faculties are very often disturbed—the prisoner is no doubt pregnant.
Re-examined. I should think she is about five months gone in pregnancy, and she has quickened.
CHRISTINA WILDERSPIN (Re-examined). The prisoner has complained to me that in consequence of her misery she could never get to sleep till nearly morning—she complained of that almost immediately after she came—she usually went to bed between 10 and 11 p.m.—she got up at various times, sometimes rather late, in consequence of her Want of sleep, perhaps not till 9 o'clock.
GUILTY. Strongly recommended to mercy by the Jury. DEATH. The prisoner pleaded pregnancy in arrest of judgment, arid a Jury of Matrons having been summoned and having examined her, found that she was quick with child.— Judgment Respited.