Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 06 October 2022), February 1839, trial of JANE REEVES (t18390204-684).

JANE REEVES, Killing > murder, 4th February 1839.

684. JANE REEVES was indicted for the wilful murder of a certain female child.

MR. BODKIN conducted the Prosecution.

ALFRED WILLIAM WISE . I am pot-boy at the Blockmaker's Arms,

Shoreditch. On Friday afternoon, the 24th of January, I was passing in a private road, near the New North-road, at Hoxton—my attention was called to a ditch, and on looking into it, I saw the head of a child lying, with its face upwards—there was very little water in the ditch—it was muddy—the face was partly exposed, and partly covered—it laid sideways—about two or three feet from the head, I saw a newspaper, containing the body of a child—the left arm was off the body, and the head was off also—Mr. Preedy, a medical man, came up, and the head and body were taken to the station-house, by his order—about nine o'clock the evening before I had been near that same spot, and saw a person two hundred or three hundred yards from the spot—she was going from there, towards the canal—she saw me, and altered her direction, and went towards the spot where the body was afterwards found—she had something in a basket in one hand, and something in a blue bundle in the other—I could not see her face exactly, for her hair was over her face—she appeared in a distressed state—I could not swear to her—the basket she had was just such a one as this —(looking at one)—it was very dark then.

ELIZABETH REEVE . I am seventeen years old. I am no relation to the prisoner—I was in the service of Jones and Chatfield, in January, as housemaid—the prisoner was cook—I had been there two months, within two or three days—I slept in the same bed with the prisoner—nobody else slept in the same room—one evening, I do not know the day of the month, my master had a party to tea and supper—I had noticed something particular about the prisoner before that—we all noticed it—I spoke to her about it about a week before the party—I told her she looked very large, and that she was in the family way—she strongly denied it—on the night of the party she went to bed, about half-past nine or ten o'clock—I went between eleven and twelve o'clock—she was in bed when I went in—a few minutes after I had been in bed, she got out, and exclaimed, "Good God, I cannot lay"—she said nothing else—I did not speak to her—she seemed to be in pain, and very ill—I did not ask her what was the matter, or speak to her at all—I do not know what she did after she got out of bed, but the bed shook very much, and she went out of the room several times—I went to sleep after she went out of the room—she did not go out directly she got out of bed—she stopped near the foot of the bed some time, and then went out—she went out of the room two or three times before I went to sleep—that occupied, I should think, ten minutes, or it might be a little longer—I heard somebody cry, as it sounded to me, like a child—it was similar to a child crying—I have said that I could not tell whether it was the cry of the mother, or the child, exactly, as I would not be positive—I heard this cry, similar to a child—I should say it appeared the cry of the child, more than of the mother—I did not hear her get into bed at all that night again—she was not in bed when I heard the cry—I did not find her in bed when I awoke the following morning—she called me up at our usual time, seven o'clock—she was then up and dressed to the best of my recollection—I believe she did not come into bed at all that night again—there was a frock of mine hanging at the foot of the bed that night—I had occasion to put it on that afternoon—I did not find any thing on it when I put it on, but I went into the shop, and a strange woman called my attention to it—I then found there was a good deal of blood about the back of the frock—I spoke to the prisoner about it, and said it must have been her, as no one else could have done it—she said it was

either a chicken or a rabbit, I will not be certain which—we had had chickens or rabbits for the company—I said nothing more to her about what occurred that night—she did not seem very well that day—she went about her business pretty well, but did not seem well—there is a dust-hole at the back of my master's premises, in a saw-pit, I believe—I saw her there the day after this occurred, between two and three o'clock, but did not see her go there—she was there a good bit—it might have been half an hour, and was knocking the ashes about—she said she was looking after the blacklead brush that we had lost—I remember her being taken into custody—I sat next to her at Worship-street, while she was waiting to go before the Magistrate—I was in custody also—I said to her, "Jane, was it not the child I heard cry in the night?"—she said, "No, it was me in such pain"—I was very sleepy that night—I spoke to Mr. Woodcock, one of the shopmen, about this, before the policeman came to the house—it was after a be bad been made by one of the shopmen that she had been in the family way, and one betted she was not.

Cross-examined by MR. CLARKSON. Q. I take it for granted yon must have been very sleepy that night, as you did not offer assistance? A. I was very sleepy on account of having company—I have but a very imperfect recollection of what passed after she cried out that she could not lay—she did not appear in a wild state when she said it—she seemed in pain—I did not take notice of her, I thought she would be better in the morning—I had told her before that I thought she was in the family way—all in the house thought so—I never said anything about any cry till I was taken into custody—I believe my master sleeps with his door shut—when we have gone up in the morning it was always shut—I do not know whether it was open or shut that night—the head of our bed comes close to the door of our room—my master sleeps up one flight of stain—our room is close to the sitting-room—it is all on one floor—the parlour is up two pair of stairs, and master sleeps one pair of stairs beyond that—I went to bed before my master—our room and the parlour-doors face each other—they are separated by a very narrow passage—the company was not gone when I went to bed—mistress had sent me to bed—she was up, and all the company in the parlour, when I went to bed—it was directly I got into bed that the prisoner exclaimed, "O God, I cannot lay"—at that time my master was sitting in the parlour close adjoining our room—I was not many minutes undressing and getting into bed—the prisoner made a very extraordinary kind of noise before she said what she did—I thought she was ill—I did not expect she was in labour—I was too sleepy except to know that she cried out, and made an extraordinary noise.

COURT. Q. What sort of floor has the room? A. A boarded floor, and no carpet—there is a fire-place, I believe that is blocked up, and the head of the bed comes close by the fire-place.

MR. BODKIN. Q. Is it a stump bedstead, or are there curtains to it? A. No curtains—the posts are level with the bed—it is called a stump bedstead, and it is about the common height from the ground—I did not observe any blood on the floor.

ANN CHATFIELD . I am the wife of Edward Chatfield, and live in the City-road. The prisoner was in my service for five months before this happened—I noticed she was rather stout—she looked the same size all the time she had been with me—I asked her what was the reason of her getting so stout, if there was any thing the matter with her—she said

"No"—I asked her if she was inclined to be dropsical—she said "No"—on Monday, the 13th or 14th of January, we had company to tea and supper—the prisoner went to bed about ten o'clock that night—eleven o'clock was the usual time—we supped at half-past nine o'clock—the witness Reeve came to me at eleven o'clock, and asked leave to go to bed, and she went about ten minutes or a quarter past eleven o'clock—we remained up with our friends until one 'o'clock—we were in a room not four feet from the door of the servants' bedroom—there were seven of us—we sat in the room with the door open for three-quarters of an hour, between twelve and one o'clock—the party left at a quarter past twelve o'clock, but we expected some of them to return—we sat with the door closed until a quarter past twelve o'clock, and then sat with it open for three-quarters of an hour—this is on the first-floor above the shop—there is only a narrow passage about a yard and a quarter wide between the two rooms—the doors of both rooms are exactly opposite each other—I heard nothing to induce me to suspect any thing extraordinary was taking place that night—I was not aware of any body coming into the passage after they went to bed—on Wednesday, the 30th of January, something was discovered in the dust-bin of our house—in consequence of what then transpired, I took the sheets off the prisoner's bed, and found them stained with blood—the prisoner and the witness were then in custody.

Cross-examined. Q. From whom did you have the prisoner? A. Mrs. Pickering, in Moorfields, who she had lived with fifteen months—I had a very excellent character with her—up to the time of this occurrence she deserved that character, and indeed almost more than the lady gave her—I always found her a kind-hearted, humane girl—she is about twenty—a very hard-working girl, and very willing, very kindly-disposed—I would not have parted with her almost for the world—she went about her business as usual—she was up next morning—we breakfasted at a quarter past eight o'clock as usual, and attended to her work—I did not see the contents of her boxes, but they were searched.

COURT. Q. If the child was born before one o'clock, were you so near that you must have heard it? A. I must have heard it; or if the bedroom door had opened I must have heard it—it struck one o'clock as I got into bed.

MR. BODKIN. Q. When you say you must have heard the door open, do you allude to when your own room door was open? Yes; I must have heard it open or close at any time while I was in the parlour, because we were very quiet.

COURT. Q. What distance is your bed-room from theirs? A. Up another flight of stairs, not over theirs—I heard Eliza go to bed, and heard her close the door—I did not hear it open—we were making a noise when taking the supper things away—their door will not shut very easily—I do not remember whether the prisoner went out the evening after the party—this is my basket—(looking at it)—it was used to fetch potatoes in—the prisoner very rarely went out for any thing—there is a stain on it, but I know that stain has been there for months.

DONALD HUGH SUTHERLAND . I am porter to Messrs. Jones and Chatfield. At the latter end of January I was clearing out the dust from the dust-hole, in the back yard, and found the arm of an infant, covered over with dust—I communicated it to my master—Robinson, the police inspector, was sent for, and the arm was delivered to him.

JOHN ROBINSON . I am an Inspector of the G division of police. On

the 30th of January I was sent for to Jones and Chatfield's, and took possession of the arm of an infant, which was in the dust-hole—in consequence of what was said to me, I went into the kitchen to the prisoner—I found her there, cooking some meat—I told her I had come to speak to her about the child—she hesitated a little, turned her head towards me, and said, "I know nothing at all about it"—I went round the table towards her, and told her I charged her with the wilful murder of her infant child, and it was a very serious thing for her; I would advise her to be careful what she aid, but I should rather she said nothing at all—she then said, without ray putting any question, or saying any thing more, "It would have been three weeks old—but it was dead"—I told her I had found the arm in the dust-hole—she said I should find the Test there too—I took her into custody, and took her to the station-house—I asked her how long it was ago, if she could recollect about the time—she said she could not—I asked her if it was a week—she said more than that—I asked if it was a month—she said, "No"—I then returned, and searched the dust-bin, and found something there, which I delivered to Mr. Leeson, the surgeon, with the arm—I took the witness Reeve into custody, after I returned the same day.

WILLIAM GROVE . I was a sergeant in the police; I am now an officer of Worship-street. On the afternoon of Wednesday, the 30th of January, I was in the waiting-room at Worship-street, where the prisoners are placed previous to going before the Magistrate—the prisoner, and the witness Reeve, were there with a policeman—I said to the policeman, "Are these the two parties charged with murder, that Mr. Robinson has in custody?"—he said, "I don't know"—that induced me to say to the two prisoners, "Are you the parties charged with this horrible murder, where the child was found in the ditch?"—the witness Reeve said, in a low tone, but sitting so close, the prisoner must have heard it, "Not me, but" (pointing to the prisoner on the left side) "this one"—the prisoner immediately said, "The policeman charges me with murder, but I am not guilty, for the child was still-born"—she then added, "I put it in the ditch, but its head was not off then"—on the following day I searched her box at Jones and Chatfield's, and found some linen and articles, which appeared to have been recently washed—I found no preparation for the birth of a child—there were several aprons, which appeared to have been recently washed, they—were rolled up, and put away quite wet, there was no baby-linen whatever—in the prisoner's bed-room there appeared to be a stain of blood on the wall of the chimney, which is close to a little sideboard—the bed had been taken down when I was there, but the foot of the bed must have come towards that part where the blood was—I think Mr. Chatfield staled to me where the bed had been—the stain was, I suppose, two feet eight, or three feet from the ground—it was not done by a bloody hand—it appeared to have run down from a small sideboard in the recess, as if something bloody had been put on the sideboard.

MRS. CHATFIELD re-examined. The recess spoken of is near where the foot of the bed was—there are two recesses—the hearth-stone is between the two at the foot of the bed, not at the head—the foot of the bed came close to the hearth—a person sitting at the foot of the bed would be close to the hearth-stone.

RICHARD HOWE (police-constable K 32.) I have the guard of the

police van which takes prisoners to and from the police-office—on the 1st of February I brought the prisoner from the New prison to Worship-street for examination—it is my duty to be inside—when she first got into the van she complained of being very cold, not having been near a fire since I had taken her down to Clerkenwell—I asked her the reason why—she said there were some old women in the house that called her a Greenacre, and said she had cut her child up—that at the anxiety of the moment, not knowing what she was about, she had pulled the child to pieces in the bed with her hands—she said, though she was gone her full time, she supposed the child had been dead two months before the delivery—she asked me if I knew the young woman that was coming up that said she heard the child cry—I told her I did not know any thing about her—she said she was confident she could not hear the child cry, on account of her going to bed very tired, having been up the night before—she said she had a light the whole of the time—she said she heard there was a head found somewhere in a ditch, but she could not think how it came there.

HARRIETT HAYWARD . I am the wife of a policeman of the G division, and am accustomed to search female prisoners. On the 30th of January the prisoner was brought to the station-house—I searched her, and found a bunch of keys and two penknives on her—she said, "You do not want these" speaking of the penknives—I said, "Yes, these are what I do want"—she said, "Well, take them, I have done it, and it cannot be undone"—I produce the knives.

CHARLES JAMES PRBEDT . I am a surgeon, and live at Pentonville. On the 24th of January I was passing by the New North-road, Hoxton—my attention was called to part of the body of a child found in a ditch—I delivered it to the policeman No. 121—it was the trunk, with the exception of the left arm, and the head, which was detached—I desired it to be taken to the station-house, but it was taken to the house of Mr. Coward, a surgeon, in the neighbourhood—I afterwards saw an arm fitted to the body, and the head, and am decidedly of opinion it all formed one body—I have no doubt at all of it—it was perfectly fresh—it might have been dead a few days—I think decomposition does not go on so rapidly with new-born children as others—my impression is that the arm was taken off by a sharp instrument—the tearing an arm of a child off would be attended with some difficulty, but would not be very difficult after decapitation—I am certain that both the head and arm were separated by a sharp instrument—there was a division of the cartilage by a sharp instrument—the decapitation took place after death decidedly—both had evidently been severed after death—I noticed a contusion on both sides of the head, on the parietal bone, and on the temporal or frontal bone on the left side—I was enabled to make a more minute examination afterwards at Mr. Coward's—I have no doubt those contusions were inflicted during the life of the child—that is my opinion as to all the contusions I observed about the head—there were dark blue and black appearances externally, ecchymosis—I thought I could feel extravasation—that is, it was given during the circulation of the blood—there was also a bruise on both sides of the body, and slight ecchymosis spots on different parts—I confined my observation more particularly to the head—on the following day the body was opened by Mr. Coward and myself, and on a subsequent day Mr. Leeson was present—I opened the head, and found very great extravasation between the scalp and the bone, and a further extravasation on the brain—I examined the bones of the

head, and found both the parietal bones, the temporal right side, and the frontal bone on the left side fractured—that appeared to have been produced by the external violence the child had received.

COURT. Q. I dare say you have known instances of children delivered without assistance being given to the woman, and the child falling on a hard substance? A. A child might receive a fracture of the skull from something of that sort very possibly, presuming the woman to be standing in an erect position—assuming the prisoner to have been delivered of the child, and it having fallen on the hearth-stone or boards, the skull might possibly be fractured in that way.

MR. BODKIN. Q. Do you think such an occurrence would satisfactorily account for all the appearances of the head? A. Certainly not—I do not think that would fracture the several bones that were fractured—it is possible, but not probable—I think it possible if she had dropped the child twice it might account for the fractured bones, but it is pot probable—I proceeded to open the chest—the lungs were not at all decomposed—I took them out and put them in water, and they floated—I should imagine from the general appearance of the lungs that they had been properly inflated—I have heard of children living two or three days and not having their lungs thoroughly inflated, but never knew of such a case—these appeared thoroughly inflated—there have been cases where the child has respired, and yet died before it left the mother—that is very common—it might be from the pressure on the umbilical cord, the weakness of the child, and other causes—I should rather doubt the circumstance of the lungs being inflated being a certain test that the child was born alive—the hydrostatic test may have been a good deal blown upon, but I still have a great opinion of it, not that I should like to stake the life of a fellow-creature on it—I do not think I should rely on that alone—children frequently receive injuries on the head during delivery—I do not think I could refer the injuries I saw to that—it appeared to have arrived at the proper period.

COURT. Q. Might not the mother, having no assistance, by compression of her own hands very innocently destroy the child? A. She might produce external marks—I imagine that putting her hand round the child's neck during labour, would produce external marks—if it occasioned death, I think the marks of the fingers would be plain—I think if there had been, pressure on the skull at that time, the bones would lap over, but they would resume their position immediately—by the shape of the head I think no extensive pressure was used—I think it rather doubtful whether a fracture would be produced by the woman endeavouring to assist herself by compression of the hand on the skull.

MR. BODKIN. Q. Do you mean to say it would be possible for a woman taken suddenly in labour, without assistance, in her struggles to deliver herself, to cause the fractures found in this child? A. Not by endeavouring to deliver herself—I attribute death to external violence, producing the extravasation of blood on the head—the appearances could not be produced by compression of the hands of the mother—I have not the slightest doubt that the child was born alive—it was decidedly born alive, in my opinion.

COURT. Q. You mean it had undoubtedly respired—the lungs were fully inflated? A. Yes.

MR. BODKIN. Q. Were you shown the placenta? A. Yes, it was

rather in a decomposed state, but it assisted our inquiry, because I imagine that the circulation had been kept up between the mother and child to the time of birth, but that is conjecture.

Cross-examined. Q. I suppose you have had opportunities of witnessing a great many deliveries A. I have—I have known instances of self-delivery before assistance could be got, where the parties have been in good circumstances—I have seen cases where the act of parturition has been attended by total absence of mind, but they are not numerous—I have, on one occasion, had under my own notice a mother, in perfectly good circumstances, manifesting an eagerness to destroy her child—the mother, in that case, was at times, not in a condition to know what she was about at the time—I had delivered that person myself—I gave the nurse instruction to take the child from her, to prevent the possibility of a repetition—these things would be just as likely with medical assistance as in self-delivery—the effect of fear and shame, the woman not being married, would, no doubt, have additional effect on the mind, I have HO doubt it might produce almost insanity—the head of the child was not at all decomposed when I first saw it—it exhibited slight signs of decomposition externally, when we commenced the internal examination—that was about the face—it was merely discoloration—a child falling down would be one of the means of producing ecchymosis—ecchymosis is a strong proof of vitality, it shows that, at the time of receiving the injury, there was circulation of the blood—it does not show the means by which the violence was inflicted—I do not know that it has been the result of experiment in France, that a new-born child falling from the mother, not more than eight inches, on a hard floor, has almost invaribly fractured the skull, but it is possible—in this case the umbilical cord would be quite long enough to admit of the child falling to the ground—it was unusually long—I should say it was a yard long—supposing the mother to have got out of bed, and stood in a posture to deliver herself, and the child to have fallen on the ground, it would certainly not be unlikely to produce a fracture—it is by no means impossible—if she had stamped her foot on the head in her agony it would have been likely to produce such a result—I do not say it is probable—if she had her shoe on it would be more likely—I think it possible, but not probable—the umbilical cord was not secured in this instance—there is a chance, under those circumstances, of the child bleeding to death, but it is not certain—if left any length of time, the blood is attracted into another channel often—it was broken, I should think, about eight inches from the placenta.

MR. BODKIN. Q. Would the appearances have been what they were, supposing the child to have died from loss of blood from the umbilical cord? A. Certainly not

COURT. Q. Supposing her to have gone in and out of the room, being delivered on the stairs, and the child having rolled down the stairs, do you suppose that would at all account for the fracture on both sides of the head? A. It is barely possible—I believe the child to have been born alive, and that death was occasioned by external violence, but the mode in which it was received is matter of conjecture.

GEORGE WILLIAM HENRY COWARD . I am a surgeon, and live in New North-road. The trunk and head of the child were brought to my house—I noticed the external appearances, and afterwards assisted Mr. Preedy

in the internal examination—I have heard his evidence, and agree with it in all respects—I have nothing to add to it.

COURT. Q. You agree with him in the possibility of the thing happening in the way suggested? A. The only possibility I can form is, the child dropping from the mother, and she in her hurry taking it up again, and it falling again—that might account for the injuries done to the head—falling on the stairs and rolling down might possibly account for it.

Cross-examined. Q. Have you known, in deliveries of some difficulty, a fracture of the parietal bone without a fall? A. I have not seen one—it is possible—I have heard of a child being dropped on the machine of a water-closet and being destroyed—the weight of the child would easily break the skull—I think compression of the hand on the head by a woman delivering herself would produce marks of violence, but I think not fracture the bone—it might, if pressed on the brain, produce death by rupturing a vessel, without breaking a bone, and there would be the appearance afterwards of extravasated blood—there would not be the same ecchymosis appearance—there would be ecchymosis.

JOHN LEESON . I am surgeon to the police. I was sent for to the station-house by the Inspector, on the 30th of January, and saw the prisoner there—I made an examination of her person—she did not object to it—I ascertained that she had been recently delivered of a child—I asked her if it was not so?—she said "Yes"—I had seen the arm of the child at the station-house—I asked her if the arm of the child I had seen was any portion of the child of which she was delivered—she said "Yes".—I asked her where the other remains of the child were to be found—she said, "where the arm must have been found"—she said the child was still-born—she said she suffered for a considerable time preparatory pains, but that ultimately she was delivered in a short time—I assisted the other gentlemen in the examination of the body—I have heard their evidence, and concur in it to a very great extent—I do not suppose the whole of the fractures being so extensive, could have occurred from the mere circumstance of the child falling on the floor or any hard substance—a portion of them might have occurred so—I should think it improbable, but not impossible, that it might happen by her being delivered on the stairs, and the child falling down several steps.

COURT. Q. Or, supposing her to have been delivered in the bed-room, and in taking the child away, it had fallen out of her hand down stairs, might it receive such an injury? A. It might—I have examined the bed-room, which is a very small room, and there is but a very small space unoccupied—had she been delivered within a small space without a: light, it is not at all improbable that she might have trod on the child's head, from the smallness of the space between the bed and the wall—I, think the weight of her body on the head of the child would produce the fractures I have seen, without any such intention on her part—it is very probable she might have trampled on it—it k very probable that putting her foot on the head would produce all the fractures I have seen—there, were ecchymosis appearances on the arm which was severed from the body—these appearances might be produced in her effort to tear the child from her—there was no appearance about the child that I could not refer to the possibility of its having occurred in the way stated.

GUILTY of Concealment. Aged 21.— Confined Two Years.