JOHN DEVLIN.
25th June 1906
Reference Numbert19060625-16
VerdictGuilty > insane
SentenceImprisonment > insanity

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DEVLIN, John (57, hawker) , murder of Agnes Hankers.

Mr. R. D. Muir and Mr. Kershaw prosecuted; Mr. Fordham defended.

ALICE BALHAM , wife of Henry Balham, 20A, County Terrace Street, New Kent Road. At the beginning of June I rented a back room from prisoner, who occupied three rooms, a sitting-room, kitchen, and bedroom, with the deceased, who was known as Mrs. Devlin. I am a half-sister of prisoner, our mother being the same. On Friday, June 1, prisoner and deceased remained in bed all day, as was their habit when they were drinking. I saw them in bed at seven in the morning, when they appeared to be sober. I went out about eight o'clock. In the afternoon between three and four they were still in bed.

At five o'clock I made them some tea and cooked some eggs. Between seven and eight o'clock I got them a pint of ale, and I stayed with them till about 11.30., when I went to bed. They, then seemed on very good terms, and were not the worse for drink. My bedroom adjoins theirs, and there is a partition between the two. During the night I did not hear anything; at all. In the early morning I heard someone go out, I think, twice. I was used to them doing that. I did not get up till nine, and the going out might have been three hours earlier. When I got up I went into my brother's room, which was very dark, the blind being over the window. I said to my brother, "Do not you think it is time you were Up?" but did not get any answer. I looked at the bottom of the bed, and did not see my sister-in-law. I then went to the window, and having; pulled the blind aside I saw her lying down at the foot of the bed. I tried to rouse her, but could not. 'My brother was lying at the head of the bed. I called to him again, but he did not answer. I noticed that Mrs. Devlin was covered with a quantity of blood. I then ran out of the room and saw a neighbour, a Mrs. Tappitt. I next heard my brother calling "Alice," and went back into the room. My brother had got out of bed and had his shirt on. I said to him, "Get your clothes on. Let us bring somebody into the house and see what we can do." I asked him about it, and he made no answer then. He seemed very ill. I then went out accompanied by my brother, and saw a Mrs. Hines, who lives about four or five doors oil, and we all went back to the bedroom. The blind was taken down, and prisoner told Mrs. Hines he had murdered his wife with a chopper. He then asked Mrs. Hines to give him a penny to get half a pint of beer. She gave him a penny, and he went out. He said he had left upon the table the following note: "I have tried all ways to get an honest living, but I can't. She is a bad woman. I have give her all I can, but it done no good, and she has ruined (or marred) my life." I had never seen my brother's writing before. I did not know he could write. The chopper has been about for some time. Prisoner recently put a new handle to it. It was not kept in any particular place, but was in any one of the rooms.

Cross-examined. My name was Feneron before I. married. I had not seen my brother till about two years ago for the last twenty years and could not say whether his has been an unfortunate life. When I went to live with him he told me he had been in an asylum.

Mr. Fordham: Did you ever hear from, him or anybody that that was because he was using a chopper and attempting to injure himself and that he was mad at the time he did that?

Mr. Justice Bigham: That is scarcely satisfactory evidence; Certainly it would not be evidence in any Civil Court.

Mr. Fordham: My lord, in this case I am in considerable difficulty because I cannot call the person who took the charge at that time. The only way I can get it is by cross-examination as to what witnesses have heard, because I am not in a position to call the officials. Mr. Muir says he will let me have a police "occurrence" book, and no doubt the officer who produces that will be the better witness to cross-examine.

Witness. I had myself some trouble of the kind about three years ago and was sent away to the asylum at Hanwell, where I remained three months. I was Buffering from white leg and was very depressed. My age is 42. Prisoner's son William has been in an asylum nine yean. His age is 32. I think I have heard my brother say he would not take care of himself and used to neglect himself. I have not heard my brother spoken of as "Mad Jack," but I know he is nicknamed "Jack we Devil ". I had been living with my brother about nine months. When in drink he was very passionate. Both he and deceased used to drink very heavily. I think she was about 45. They were very fond of each other and he was jealous of her seeing other people. She occasionally upset him by saying she would leave him and used to nag him a lot. She did leave him three or four times and stayed away three weeks or a month. What she did at such times I do not know. When she threatened to leave him it appeared to upset his mind very much. So far as I know, there is no man of whom he had cause to be jealous. Prisoner and deceased often used to be in bed. When he was at work he was a licensed pedlar. I have a brother, James Feneron, who has been in an asylum at Salisbury many years. He was born with water on the brain. When I last saw prisoner and deceased there was no sign of there being any ill-feeling or quarrel between them; they seemed on the best of terms. I was sleeping on the other aide of the wall, but heard nothing during the night When I went into the room on the Saturday morning prisoner was lying on the bed with his face to the wall. I thought he was ill, because his face was very white and his eyes looked strange. It was after he had asked Mrs. Hines for a penny and had gone out to get some beer that he said, "I have left a note." I did not know he could write. Deceased could write and was "a good scholar." Prisoner has an adopted son, William Axford. of whom he is very fond, about 16 years old. My brother had kept him since he was about eight years of age. He ran away about eight or nine days previous to this occurrence. On Derby night my brother brought him home, but he ran away again next morning, leaving a note that he was going for a sailor.

Re-examined. The home was kept by the boy and my brother. The boy used to help my brother as a pedlar, and on Saturday deceased used to stand in the road with a stall. My brother

brought in most of the money for the home. Sometimes he would go out only three days a week. He sold fancy combs, brushes, and brooches from house to house. Sometimes he went away for miles. He always appeared to be right in his mind except when he was drinking. If he had any extra drink he used to lose his temper. He did not keep me as well. My husband supports) me. It is about 11 weeks since I had any money from my husband. For a month I went into St. George's Workhouse, and during the rest of the time my brother kept me. He was earning enough money to keep me as well. He never threatened to do me any harm. As to whether be ever threatened to do deceased any harm when they were quarrelling, he need to say he would smack her face, but I never took it seriously. So far as I could see, he went about like any ordinary sane person. My mother has been dead about 18 years. She was perfectly sane and was never in an asylum.

MRS. EMILY HINES gave corroborative evidence. Prisoner, she also said, was known in the neighbourhood as "Mad Jack." She could not give any reason for that. He always treated the woman well and was affectionate to her.

PHILIP GUTTRIDON , police-constable 47, M Reserve. On the morning of June 2, at quarter past, ten, I went to 20A, County Terrace Street and saw the deceased woman in a back bedroom. I sent for a doctor. I found the letter [produced] written in, pencil on a sheet of blue foolscap on the table in the front room. Prisoner was taken, to the station, and when charged said, "God Almighty, help me. I have had some trouble with that woman I have been and killed. Well, I suppose it is what I was born, for." The chopper was at the head of the bed. To Mr. Fordham. I was informed prisoner had gone out Some time after he came back of his own accord.

ALFRED NICHOLS , inspector, M Division. I went to the house about half-past ten and saw the dead body of the woman. I found the chopper produced. There was wet blood upon it and what appeared to be human hair. I afterwards, saw prisoner coming towards the house. I told him he would be charged with the murder of the woman. He said, "I was just going to show friends of mine what I had done and was then going to give myself up. I have had a terrible life for the last three months. I will go quiet." Whilst he was being searched at the station he said, "You do not know what a life I have had during the past three months with her."

Cross-examined. There is an entry in the "occurrence" book of April 3 1903, when prisoner was sent to the Horton Asylum. The "occurrence" book is a book kept at the station in which all occurrences are entered by the officer on duty. Prisoner was brought to the station, and, being deemed a lunatic, he was

taken to the workhouse, whence, at the end of three days, he was tent to the asylum by the justices. Complaint was made at the station by the lad Axford that his uncle, John Devlin, of 20A, County Terrace Street, New Kent Road, had been behaving in a violent manner and had threatened to cut his throat with a razor. The constable who went to the address found Devlin acting in a strange manner. He stated that his head was on fire and made several attempts to get at a chopper. He remained in the asylum, I believe, seven weeks. His son William was sent to Cane Hill Asylum at the age of 22, and is still an inmate. Prisoner's half-brother has been in the Fisherton Asylum at) Salisbury for seven years. A report handed to me concerning another brother shows that he is a very violent man, suffering from delusions. The report also shows that Mrs. Balham was at Hanwell in 1901 for a period of 10 months and she was there again in 1902 and 1903. Prisoner is known in the neighbourhood as "Mad Jack" and "Jack the Devil" in Tower Bridge Road and West Maldon Road, where the markets are held. I was present at the inquest. Prisoner was very cool and collected. After the inquest he asked the coroner as a favour to allow him to see the body. The coroner granted that wish, and when he saw the body he kissed it several times.

Re-examined by Mr. Muir. At the time he was brought to the station he was sober. He appeared to understand what was said to him and was very cool and the answers he gave were rational.

DR. JACQUET, medical officer, M Division. On June 2, at half-past ten a.m., I saw the deceased. She had been dead under two hours. Rigor mortis had not commenced. There were at least twelve wounds in the head-some incised, some contused, some inflicted by the sharp edge and some by the Back of the chopper. There were also wounds across the knuckles and on the right forearm, sustained probably in protecting her head. The bone of the skull was literally smashed into little pieces. I made a post-mortem examination and found all the organs healthy.

Cross-examined. Probably the first blow caused death; one of them would be fatal as she had an unusually thin skull. I have not before been called to cases where murders have been committed by lunatics.

DR. SCOTT, medical officer, Brixton Prison. At Brixton, and formerly at Holloway, I have had great experience of questions of the sanity or insanity of prisoners accused of crime. I have had prisoner under close observation since the evening of June 2 and have seen reports of his personal history. When received he was suffering from the effects of excessive drinking, but showed no signs of delirium tremens. I have not discovered

any insane delusions or other evidence of insanity. I say that while under my observation he was sane, nervous, and depressed, but not insane. As to his state of mind on June 2, I think he was then suffering from drinking, but I see no evidence of delirium tremens or that he was actually insane.

Cross-examined. Prisoner's family history is certainly bad as regards insanity. One meets with as bad or worse sometimes. As to whether in the case of a man in whose family history there is insanity mental depression acting upon him might cause delusion or insanity of short duration, I do not think it has been proved that his previous attack was more than a short attack of alcoholic insanity, or delirium tremens, possibly followed by depression. I admit that delirium tremens is insanity. It is sometimes the case with a man who has lost control of his actions and knowledge of the distinction between right and wrong that the commission of a crime brings him back to his senses, and an unnatural calm supervenes, and that might account for the fact of a man committing a crime under those conditions lying down to sleep beside the woman he had murdered.

Re-examined. That sort of condition occurs in acute manias and melancholia. Sometimes after the committal of a crime such persons immediately felt relief. Prisoner showed no signs of mania. He was depressed, but not to the extent of insane melancholia. As to the family history, there are not sufficient details to say exactly. I should say the son is probably de mented and the brother has delusional insanity and is violent at times. The insanity of the half-brother might result in acts of violence and then calmness, but so far as I can judge the son is less dangerous.

To Mr. Fordham. In the case of murders committed by lunatics, or men not in their senses at the time, it is frequently the case that a great deal more violence is used upon the body than is necessary to accomplish the actual death. Murder is not usually cold-blooded in these cases.

The jury found prisoner Guilty, but not in law responsible for his acts.

Sentence, Detention during His Majesty's pleasure.


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