10th July 1871
Reference Numbert18710710-533
VerdictNot Guilty > unknown

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533. PHILIP NUNNEY (45) , For the wilful murder of Rebecca Burgin.

MESSRS. POLAND and GRIFFITHS conducted the Prosecution; and MESSRS. STRAIGHT and HORACE BROWN the Defence.

ELIZABETH BURGIN . I live at 47, Wicklow Street, King's Cross the deceased, Rebecca Burgin, was my mother, her age was 44 or 45—she lived at the time of her death at 9, Wicklow Street, with the prisoner—she had

lived with him for a length of time—they had no family—they were always quarrelling—my mother was a sober woman—the last time I saw her alive was Tuesday night, 28th April, and this happened on Thursday; she then seemed very poorly, and very down in her spirits—the prisoner was calling me and my mother frightful names all the time I was there—he was very tipsy—I left them together between 8 and 9 o'clock, in the up stairs room—I have often heard him threaten to take her life; the last time was two or three days before Christmas, and I went and fetched Mrs. Bailey, who came in—he said that he would strangle her and me too—as I left on the Tuesday evening, and was coming down stairs, he told me to go and hang my b——self—I next saw my mother on the day of the inquest, dead.

Cross-examined by MR. STRAIGHT. My mother was a laundress—they had a sitting room, bedroom, and washhouse—I was examined before the Magistrate, and said the same there as now—as far as I can say, when I left my mother they were quarrelling.

CHARLOTTE BAILEY . I am the wife of William Bailey, of 8, Wicklow Street, King's Cross Road, next door to the prisoner and the deceased—I have known them about ten years; they lived together as man and wife, and she passed as Mrs. Nunney—she was a laundress, and he is a painter—I saw them both on Wednesday, the 26th, the day before this, about 2 o'clock, the deccased was sitting in a chair, and the prisoner was lying on the floor asleep—she had been crying—I was not with them five minutes, and nothing took place between them while I was there—next morning, Thursday, some person brought a message to me, between 10 and 10.30, in consequence of which I went to the prisoner's house—I first went to the front door and knocked three times with the knocker, at intervals of five or six minutes, but getting no answer I went through the next door neighbour's house, and got over the pailings, and went to the prisoner's back door—I found it fastened inside—I rattled the latch, not more than two minutes, and pushed it to and fro—I then saw through the window the prisoner coming down, he opened the door, he had a rope round his neck—I know enough of the arrangements of the house to say that he came down from the room where the female lay—the staircase leads to the bed room—there is only one room up stairs—his face was blue—the rope was tied with a knot, but in my flurry I could not see on which side the knot was—his manner was excited as if he was a little drunk—he had his clothes on—I spoke first—I asked him whatever he was doing—he said "Why?"—I said "Where is your Mrs.?"—he said "She is up stairs dead, she has hung herself'—I made no reply—a knock then came to the front door—the rope was not round his neck then, I lifted it over his head directly I saw him—it was not tight, it was rather loose, but there was a knot which could slip—there was a mark just under his throat—he opened the front door and it was Mr. Hill, who came for some washing and asked for Mrs. Nunney—the prisoner told him that she had hung herself—I asked Hill to go up and see if it were true—he went up first and I followed—when we got into the room we saw a large tent turn-up bedstead with a canopy, turned over, the bed stood against a wall and turned into a recess; the canopy was not fixed to the wall, it came down and went up with the bed—I can't tell whether it was fixed to the wall, but it did not go up and down with the bed, it had come a foot down, and one part was resting on the table, which was almost in the middle of the room—the bedstead seemed as if it had fallen down on the woman—I could not see her—I came down stairs and went fur a doctor

and a policeman—Mr. Hill came down with me—I had not been inside the door—the prisoner was in the front parlour, he stayed there till Dr. Purcell came—I went up with the doctor—Mr. Hill had then gone—the doctor and I lifted the bedstead off the body; one part of it was resting across the cheek, when we moved it; the woman was lying on her back in her usual dress, her hands lying beside her, and her feet straight out—she had a rope round her neck—she was dead—a policeman then came, and after that the prisoner came up stairs—the doctor asked him how it happened—he said she had hung herself through difficulties, as they were both going to do it the night before—he was rather boisterous and used bad words—I can't tell you what he said, but I believe the doctor can—I remained till they took me to the station with the doctor—when I took the rope from the prisoner's neck, I threw it in the yard—I afterwards picked it up and gave it to the sergeant.

Cross-examined by MR. STRAIGHT. I have lived four years next door to these people; they had the whole house—the front door was only closed in the usual way—at ordinary times you could not get in at the front door without knocking—when I got into the house the front door was closed in the usual way, with the latch—I should say the prisoner had been drinking—he was incoherent in his manner—the bad words did not apply to anything in particular—I called him Philip, as I knew him very well—he has been living with her ten years—her age was about thirty-five—I had not heard of their quarrelling, or his threatening her—I supposed she was married—no one else lived in the house.

COURT. Q. When you got to the back, was there a window so that you could see the prisoner coming down? A. Yes, but I could only see the two or three bottom stairs—he came down them the same as usual—I did not discover the rope round his neck till he unbolted the door—it was loose, which allowed me to get it over his head.

JOHN HILL . I live at 1, Wicklow Street—on 27th April, at 10 o'clock in the morning, I went to 9, Wicklow Street for some washing—I knocked at the door twice, and receiving no answer went away—as I returned I knocked again, that was twenty minutes after, and the prisoner opened the door in a state of agitation—I said "My good man, what is the matter?"—he said "My wife has hung herself"—I said "You don't mean that?"—he said "I do, and if you had been a few minutes longer, I should have done the same"—Mrs. Bailey then came forward from the back part of the house—I went up stairs, and she followed me—it is a small room—the bedstead was down in a heap in the middle of the floor—I went between the bed and the wall, and saw the deccased lying by the side of the bedstead, on her back; part of the bedstead rested on her—there was a rope round her neck—I did not know her, only by her washing for me since November when my wife died—Mrs. Bailey went for a policeman.

Cross-examined by MR. STRAIGHT. I first went to the house at 10 o'clock, as near as I can say—I then took a walk as far as the Caledonian Road, and according to my calculation got there again in twenty minutes—I then knocked loudly with the knocker—I knew the prisoner by sight, but had not seen him out that morning, or the woman.

COURT. Q. Give us the best account you can of the rope round the woman's neck? A. It was slack—it was a long piece—it was not broken, I think—it was not tight round her neck.

EDWARD GODFREY PURCELL . I am a surgeon, of 123, King's Cross Road

—on Thursday morning, 27th April, I was sent for to 9, Wicklow Street, about 10.45—I am pretty accurate about the time—I saw Mrs. Bailey—I went up stairs into the room, nobody was there but myself—the bed and bedstead were lying on the deccased—it was a four-post bedstead, with a canopy, or cornice, supported by the four posts—when it is put up in the day time the cornice would go between the four posts; they are at the head only—the whole thing had come down, and the woman was lying under it, on her back; her arms were by her side, and her legs extended—she was dead—there was a rope round her neck which had a slip knot, or noose, so that it could be made tighter, or looser; it was relaxed, and the further end of it had been cut—it was about 4ft. long—there was also a rope tied to the cornice which had a free end of 41/2ft.—it was the same material and pattern as the other—to the best of my judgment the woman had been dead an hour and a half or more—she was warm—her neck was marked by the rope, and the mark fitted the rope accurately—there was a mark on her cheek-bone, where the cornice was lying on her—there were some fuselages on the stocking of the right foot, as if they had fallen there, not as if anything had been done to it—I lifted the bed off her—the prisoner was then in the room, and I asked him "How did this occur?"—he said, in consequence of baring made away with some property, and in order to prevent an exposure they had mutually agreed to destroy themselves; that he had been out to the Pander public-house that morning, at 7.20, to fetch some rum and gin, and when he came back he found she had forestalled him—he said "fetch," or "bring"—I understood him to say he took something home in a bottle, and that he was away five minutes—I did not notice his neck at all—he went down stairs, and brought up a portion of another bedstead, which he fixed up over the cornice, and said that was how he intended to destroy himself at one end, and his wife at the other—though the bedstead was down upon the woman, the whole of it was there—I could see that what he brought up was part of another bedstead—when the bedstead was done up in the day time, it went between those four posts—I made this sketch (produced)—it is what I call the canopy, or cornice—he put what he brought up across the cornice—there was a resting place for it—there he said he intended to hang from one end, and his old woman from the other—this portion went to the wall—there was room on either side of the bed for anyone to stand—a person could go between it and the wall on each side—the constables then took him—I afterwards made a post-mortem examination of the deceased, about fifty-six hours after the occurrence—the body was well nourished, and, except on the neck, there were no marks of violence—there was an ecchymosed mark on the neck; not all round, but in front, and on the left side, it was interrupted, and across the front of the windpipe, there was a larger one where the knot pressed—in my judgment the cause of death was asphyxia by strangulation, produced by hanging—I examined the bedstead on the following Monday, or Tuesday, and observed a depressed mark on the cornice, such as a rope would make, on the right hand side, not in front—no rope was tied there then, but a piece of rope was hanging on the posterior part—there was no top to the cornice, it was a mere frame, and was 6ft. 5in. high from the floor—the bedstead would not stand very firm when folded up, but it would keep up—the bed was about 19 in, from the floor when let down.

Cross-examined by MR. STRAIGHT. The bed shuts up into the back portion during the day—the prisoner seemed very much excited, but I could

not tell whether it was from drink—I should not have formed the conclusion that he had been drinking, unless I had heard it—I saw no liquor or bottle in his possession—the further end of the rope from the woman's neck had been cut, and what was round her neck was relaxed, I could get two or three fingers in—I tried the cornice, it was sufficiently strong to bear my weight.

COURT. Q. Did you see any chairs in the room? A. Two or three—there can be no doubt that the cause of death was asphyxia, and I thought at the time that the strangulation might have been done by another person—I altered that opinion when the Coroner's Jury went to view the body, about five or six hours afterwards; I then concluded that the death was from hanging, as the mark was more developed then—my opinion then, was suicide, that she did it herself—I came to that conclusion because in the first instance the mark of hanging was not there, but afterwards it went right up to the ear; and at that time I had not examined the body—when I traced the altered marks, I thought it must have been her own act—I then examined the bed, after putting it together, I found it would sustain my own weight—I held the canopy with my hands, and hung on—I was high enough from the floor to put my hands on the cornice—the woman's height was 4ft. 10in., the cornice was 6ft. from the floor, and the bed 19in., which is included—we put the rope which was round her neck round the cornice and fixed it, and it left a fall of 6in., and her feet when suspended would be 7in. from the ground—the bedstead must have been up when the rope was put round the cornice—she could have put it there herself—the time she would take to become cold would depend upon the kind of clothing she had, and upon the temperature of the weather—there was no appearance of rigor mortis—she might have jumped off a chair, or off the bed—death would then have arisen from asphyxia—I believe that she really did hang, and she must have been taken away—the fall would bring the rope taut round her neck.

JOSEPH WILKS (Policeman G 234). On 27th April, about 10.45, I was called to 9, Wicklow Street, and saw Mrs. Bailey and Dr. Purcell—the prisoner was there; he smelt very strong of drink, and appeared very much excited—I saw the deceased lying on the floor, on her back, with her hands and feet quite straight—while the doctor was examining her neck, the prisoner said to him "I will tell you just how it was, Sir. This was a mutual arrangement between ourselves; last night we were both going to hang ourselves, but Mrs. Bailey came in, so we went to bed and agreed to get up and do it in the morning; about 7.30 I went to the Pindar of Wakefield, to get some rum, because we were going to have something to drink before we did it, and when I came back I found she had forestalled me; and seeing my wife dead, I then tried to make away with myself, but I found I could not do it in the bed room, so I went down in the washhouse and tried to do it there; but Mrs. Bailey came in and prevented me, and I am very sorry for it, because we both meant to die together, because we had been making away with other people's things; and, to avoid an exposure, we made up our minds to hang ourselves"—I took him down stairs, and be tried to force his way up stairs again several times, while the doctor was examining the woman—I asked him what he wanted to go up stairs for, and he said to see what they were doing, because the witness and the doctor might make any tale against him—in the first part of the conversation, he said "If you will follow me, I will tell you how we were going to

do it the night before"—I followed him to the washhouse; he got the piece of wood, went up, and placed it crossways on the canopy at the top of the bedstead, and said "I was going to hang at one end, and she at the other" pointing out that he was to hang agin the door, and she agin the fire-place, which was at the side of the bed—I believe the wood was strong enough for them to have done so, but I think the canopy would have toppled over.

Cross-examined by MR. STRAIGHT. Q. The Pindar is about 200 yards from where they lived—he was very much excited, and his breath smelt of rum, or some spirits—I am certain he said that they had arranged to do it the day before, but Mrs. Bailey had interrupted them.

CHARLOTTE BAILEY (re-examined). I was not there the night before—I was with my husband at St. James's Theatre, and have a witness to prove it.

DALE WHITING (Police Sergeant G 8). I went to 9, Wicklow Street, about 10.45, and saw the prisoner down stairs—I went up stairs and saw the doctor—the deccased was lying on the floor, and the bedstead was erected, standing upright—I told the prisoner he would be charged with causing the death of the deccased, and also with attempting to commit suicide—he said "I do not think it right that I have been kept down stairs while you and the other witnesses are up stairs—he was then taken to the station—he was very excited, and there was a slight mark round his neck, as if a rope had been round it—he smelt of rum, or some spirit—I found two bottles, each of which would hold a quartern, and which contained a very small quantity of rum, just enough to tell what was in them—I also found some pawnbroker's duplicates—this piece of rope (produced) I took off the deceased's neck, it is 41/2ft. long—this knot is in the same state; it was loose—I have tried it round the cornice—if a woman 4ft. 10in. high, stood on the bottom rail of the bedstead, which the mattrass lies on, her head would be on a level with the top of the cornice, and if she got off the rail there would be a fall of 19 inches—this other piece of rope was attached to the back cornice, pear the centre—as far as I know, from what I actually saw, the woman was not connected with that—I also produce a piece of rope from the yard, which was handed to me as having been taken off the prisoner's neck; the knot seems to have been tied.

COURT. Q. Was there any connection between the rape round the woman's neck and the rope you took from the cornice? A. No.

COURT to E. G. PURCELL. Q. What ropes did you see when you went? A. One on the deccased's neck, which I took off, and one hanging to the back portion of the canopy—there was a mark at the corner of the canopy, but not where this rope was tied.

MR. STRAIGHT submitted that down, to the passing of the statute of 7th George IV., the prisoner could not have been charged with murder, in being accessary to the self destruction of another person; and that, under the 23rd and 24th Vic. c. 94, ss. 1 and 2, he could not be so charged, unless he had been present at the time the suicide was committed, and cited the cases of " Reg. v. Russell," and "Reg. v. Briggs." THE COURT was of opinion that there was a question of fact for the Jury, as to whether the prisoner was particeps criminis of tile crime, supposing the Jury were of opinion that, to use the expression of the prisoner, "The deceased had forestalled him," then the point would arise; but the question as to whether he was an accessary before the fact, must go to the Jury.

The Jury considered that the deceased committed suicide in the prisoner's absence, entirely of her own accord, and independent of any agreement which she might have came to with the prisoner, and therefore found the prisoner


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