This is a sad story of a relationship that has gone wrong, alcoholism and infidelity. Nantwich man, William Sherratt, is accused of murdering his wife.
Below is the account of his trial, taken from the Cheshire Observer – Saturday 03 May 1879.
CHESHIRE SPRING ASSIZES.
The Commission for holding this Assize was opened on Friday afternoon, April 25, by Mr. Justice Grove, the then presiding judge. His Lordship arrived from Ruthin at 1.15, and was met by the High Sheriff (Lieut-Colonel C. H. France-Hayhurst), the Under Sheriff (Christopher Cheshire, Esq ), the Acting Under-Sheriff (J. Tatlock, Esq.), and the usual retinue of javelin men. He proceeded to the judges’ lodgings in Northgate-street, and thence to the Castle, where the commission was read in the usual form. His lordship afterwards attended the afternoon service at the Cathedral, when the High Sheriff’s Chaplain, the Rev. F. Minton, vicar of Middlewich, preached a sermon. The business of the assize commenced on Saturday morning, at ten o’clock. There were eleven prisoners for trial, the charges against them being as follows: — Murder, 1 (William Sherratt, Nantwich, for the murder of his wife); wounding, 1; burglary, 3; rape, 1; bigamy, 1; 3, robbery with violence; and 1 larceny.
The livery of the retinue is very handsome. The javelin men are dressed in blue cloth coats edged with crimson, and cape with under cape of crimson cloth, hats with gilt cords and button on top, and cockade; their halberds have blue and white fringe on the poles. The trumpeters have jack boots, white breeches, blue tunics handsomely laced with silver, velvet cap with silver button and fringe on top; new silver trumpets and handsomely worked banners. The coachman and two footmen are attired in full court livery, with blue waistcoats and breeches, handsomely trimmed with silver, white silk stockings, shoes with buckles, hats with cockade, and their hair powdered. The coachman wears a wig Sergeant Spooner, who has charge of the javelin men, is dressed somewhat similarly to them, but minus the cockade, and wearing a grenade on the collar and chevrons on the arms.
COMMENCEMENT OF THE BUSINESS.
The business of the assize was commenced at ten o’clock on Saturday morning in the Crown Court, Chester Castle, before Mr. Justice Grove. The following gentlemen were sworn on the
Richard Barton. Esq., Caldy Manor, Foreman.
John Coutts Antrobus, Esq., Eaton Hall, Congleton.
Robert Bolesworth, Esq., Bolesworth Castle.
Thomas Unett Brocklehurst. Esq., Henbury Park.
William Roylance Court, Esq., Newton Manor.
William Graham Crum, Esq., Mere Old Hall.
George Dixon, Esq., Astle Hall.
John Upton Gaskell, Esq., Ingersley.
Edward Greenall. Esq., Grappenhall Hall. John Higson. Esq., Oakmere Hall.
Christopher Kay. Esq., Davenham Hall.
Henry Hindman Laird, Esq , Birkenhead.
Egerton Leigh, Esq., West Hall. Edward Logan, Esq., Grove Hill.
George Gordon Macrae, Esq., Beechfield.
Joseph Charlton Parr, Esq., Grappenhall Heyes.
John Ralph Shaw. Esq.. Arrowe Park.
Edmund Joseph Tippinge, Esq , Davenport Hall.
Horace Dormer Trelawny, Esq.. Shotwick Park.
William Turner, Esq , Over Hall.
Woodhouse, Esq., Norley Hall.
The Judge, addressing the Grand Jury, said they had assembled there for the first time, he believed, at that time of the year, but it had pleased the Government to have four assizes, and doubtless they would all assist in giving the experiment a fair trial. There were conveniences and inconveniences attached to the measure, but as the Judges had expressed their opinion upon it in London, it would hardly become any single Judge to express any opinion now about the matter. No doubt there were great inconveniences attaching to grand jurymen and petty jurymen being brought from their homes a great many times a year, and in the minds of some there might be created a disinclination to take part in the administration of justice. He was glad to see that in Cheshire it was not so, although in other counties there had been evinced great disinclination to serve as petty jurymen, and that must be considered as one of the questions of the present day. There was no doubt that these more frequent assizes conduced to that more expeditious trial of the prisoners; but when the statistics were fairly looked at showing how far it was necessary for the sake of those prisoners – and no doubt there might be an innocent man imprisoned, unjustly imprisoned, because they could not hope to get human justice to absolute perfection, and no doubt it would always be a risk in a civilised community. Whether the assizes were held each quarter or consolidated to two or three each year, the number of prisoners was smaller in the first case, but the difficulty of naming proper times became much greater for the Judges. If the Judges gave too long a time to one place they were debarred from taking any part in the administration of justice in London, where they were very much needed, and were kept virtually doing nothing in the country. For instance, the business at Ruthin was got through in less than a day – being in fact finished in two hours and a half ? But then there was no time for the Judge to go up to London and return for the next assize, because his stay in London would be too short to enable him to take a proper part in the administration of justice there. On the other hand, the Judges might allow a provisional time with the chances that a good number of prisoners might be committed between the naming of the period for holding the assizes and the time they were really held. On the present occasion when the time for holding the assizes was named there were only three prisoners committed, and the cases were comparatively trifling; but Chester being a place where there was a probability of additional prisoners being committed, a longer time was named, though if there had been no more committals the whole business might have been got through in the course of half a day. He had allowed what he considered to be an ample time for Chester, but it now seemed a question whether the time allowed would be sufficient. The cases were of the ordinary kind with the exception of that of a person committed for wilful murder, which he feared would take a very long time should the Grand Jury find a true bill? In fact he thought it would occupy the greater portion of the time allotted for the assizes, and which it was impossible to alter, under the present state of affairs. It was a matter which required consideration whether nothing could be done to give greater elasticity to the period for holding the assizes. The only case to which c need refer in detail was one of alleged wilful murder, except that in the calendar there appeared a case of ordinary larceny which showed no particular circumstances calling for its committal to the assizes. There was an option given to the magistrates, but he saw no reason why that case should not have been sent for trial at the Quarter Sessions. There were several burglaries, but none of those offences appeared to have been committed by men who might be called adepts, or professional burglars, and they presented no features of difficulty. The charge of wilful murder was made against a man named William Sherratt, who was indicted for the murder of his wife on the 6th April. It appeared that the prisoner and his wife had not lived together for some time, but the woman had lived for a considerable period before her death in avowed adultery – there did not appear to be any secret of it – with another man. It was also clear that the prisoner was anxious that his wife should go back to him. On the 5th April both were taken home by a police constable, the woman being under the influence of drink, but not to that extent which would take away her intelligence. About an hour afterwards a man named Cooper and his wife, who lived in the next house to the prisoner, heard loud screams from the prisoner’s house, which became gradually hoarse and weaker, and ultimately died away in what they described as a “choking sound.” Another person who was passing outside heard similar cries and screams of “Murder.” He waited, and after the cries had ceased be heard a sound “like a pig made when it was stuck.” He (the judge) would say that the affair was most extraordinary, except that that would be a wrong expression to use, because his experience as a judge ? which was not a light one ? and a long experience as a barrister, pointed to the fact that of late years what used to be the English attribute of courage seemed in these cases to have fled, for it did not apparently occur to one of these persons who heard the cries to render any assistance to the person who was probably dying. They heard sounds as of choking or gurgling, but they neither inquired nor took any steps to obtain assistance, or do any- thing to prevent this apparent murder, or whatever it was, being committed. He was sorry to say that from his experience this was not an isolated case. The prisoner left the house soon afterwards, and slept the next night at the house of his wife’s father. He left that house early the following morning, between five and six o’clock, and in the place where he had slept was found a piece of thin rope, which upon examination was found to have upon its surface blood, and some human hairs. As far as he could see, there was more upon it at first, but two long hairs remained when it was given to a scientific analyst. The blood could not be positively spoken to as that of a human being, but the hair was similar in colour and character to that of the deceased. She was found dead in bed that morning, with a red mark round her neck, and the skin abraded in two or three places There were other bruises on the body, hut they did not appear to have had anything to do with the cause of death, or to have been inflicted by any instrument, probably being due to blows given by the prisoner during the struggle. The medical evidence showed that death had been caused by strangulation, and very probably by a rope similar to that found near where the prisoner had been. Several expressions had been used by the prisoner both before and after the death of his wife which it would be better to bear from the witness. He would leave them to consider all these circumstances among themselves – the expressions used, the screams, the manner of death, the behaviour of the prisoner, &c, and he did not doubt they would arrive at a proper conclusion.
The Grand Jury were then dismissed to their duties, which they completed in about two hours, returning a true bill in each case, and they were then discharged by the Judge with the thanks of the county.
The Judge took his seat at ten o’clock.
THE NANTWICH WIFE MURDER.
SENTENCE TO DEATH.
William Sherratt, 39, labourer, was indicted for the wilful murder of Eliza Sherratt, his wife. on 5th April last.
Mr. and Mr. Marshall appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Burke Wood and Mr. E. J. Dunn were for the defence.
Mr. SWETENHAM, in opening the case, stated the facts to the Jury. The deceased woman, he said, was married at the age of 17 to the prisoner, and at the time of her death was 37 years of age. She and her husband lived at 20, Willaston-terrace, Nantwich, and both were unfortunately addicted to drink. They had frequent quarrels and six weeks before her death the deceased woman left her husband and went to live with another man named Joe Wright. On Saturday evening, the 5th of April, about seven o’clock, a police constable named Frederick Bebington, saw the prisoner, his wife, and also Joe Wright. in Pillory-street, Nantwich. The woman was drunk, but the prisoner was sober. The latter was endeavouring to persuade his wife to go home with him, but she refused to do so, and said, “I will not go with a murdering devil like you.” The constable told her that if she did not go home he would have to lock her up for being drunk, and she then went home with her husband, the officer accompanying them. When they got to the house the constable told the prisoner not to Abuse her, if he did she would not likely to stay with him. Joe Wright, who was not sober, followed the prisoner and his wife a short distance home, and then went back. Betsy Kitchen, the sister of the deceased, who was likewise in Pillory-street, also heard the latter say to the prisoner, “I will not go home with you, you will murder me.” The prisoner replied, “I will not put finger upon you.” The deceased’s sister after this went to the house or the prisoner, and there the deceased said to her husband, “You have brought me home to be murdered.” The prisoner again said that he would not put a finger upon her, and gave Betsy Kitchen money to purchase some meat for him. Betsy Kitchen went out and bought the meat, and the prisoner then asked his wife to cook some. To this deceased replied, “I will not eat another bit of meat with you long as I live.” Betsy Kitchen soon after this left the house, and the deceased said to her as she was going out, “If you go away you won’t see me anymore.” This was about half-put seven o’clock. A man named Henry Cooper, who lived next door, heard the deceased woman curing her husband while Betsy Kitchen was in the house, and say, “Betsy, fetch Joe Wright to protect me; I am not going to be murdered here. ” Cooper heard Betsy Kitchen leave the house, and he heard the deceased continue to curse her husband, but did not hear the latter say anything to her except that she should not leave the house, which she was threatening to do. After this Cooper heard a noise of struggling, and then a sound of someone falling on the floor. He also heard cries of “Murder” five or six different times, the voice becoming fainter and fainter until all still. Cooper did not attribute much to what he had heard, there had been violent quarrels between the prisoner and the deceased previously. After this Cooper went out to buy a newspaper, and on returning home met the prisoner coming from the direction of his house, but did not speak to him. About eight o’clock the same evening man named James Simmoods, who also lived in Willaston-terrace, heard cries of “Murder” proceeding from the prisoner’s house, and listened At the back door, but did not think it his duty to go into the bouse. Constable Bebbington also saw the prisoner again the same evening, and the prisoner told him that his wife had slipped away from him. The prisoner next went to the Lion public-house, where he remained until ten o’clock. He there wanted a bed, but the landlord refused, and prisoner then purchased half a pint of whisky, and went to the house of William Hassall, shoemaker, the father of the deceased woman. The prisoner there sat up until about twelve o’clock drinking whisky with his father-in-Iaw. He then went to bed, but did not appear to have slept much, as his father-in-law was kept awake the greater part of the night by hearing the prisoner constantly calling out, “Eliza, speak; Eliza, speak. “
Next morning the prisoner got up at six o’clock, and went home. About seven o’clock he was seen to come out of his house crying, and having a handkerchief to his eyes. He then went to the house of woman named Jane Townshend, and got her to cook him some breakfast. When be eating it be remarked, “I am in a mess, and when I have eaten this meat I shall go and drown myself.” After leaving Townshend’s, the prisoner went to the bouse of his brother-in-law, William Hassall; and whilst there a knock came to the door, upon which the prisoner remarked, ” There’s a bobby come for me.” The same morning a neighbour, on looking through the window of the prisoner’s house, saw the deceased lying on the floor covered with a blanket, and apparently dead. The prisoner was searched for, and on being found went to his house. On seeing the dead body of his wife he said, “I have not done it; Joe Wright must have done it. Someone has served me a nice trick.” The prisoner was afterwards taken into custody. Round the neck of the deceased there was a red mark, and she had apparently been strangled. On the top of a cupboard, near to the room in which the prisoner slept at his father-in-law’s house, a piece of cord found, upon which there was blood and hair, the hair corresponding to that of the deceased woman. The piece of rope also corresponded to some rope which was in the prisoner’s kitchen.
Frederick Bebbington, police constable, stationed at Nantwich, said that about half-past six o’clock on Saturday night, the 6th April, he saw the prisoner and the deceased, Eliza Sherratt, in Pillory-street, Nantwich. A man named Wright was with them. They were nearly opposite the Railway Vaults. The woman was drunk, the prisoner sober. He wanted her to go home with him, and she was refusing to go, and witness told her she must go home with her husband, or he must look her up. They went slowly away, the deceased going reluctantly, and passed through Pall Mall towards Willaston Terrace, where they lived. Wright followed a short distance off, but witness ordered him back, and he went. and witness didn’t see him again until nine o’clock. When the deceased went on with the prisoner she said, “I’m not going with a murdering devil like that.” Witness went with them to their back door, and told the prisoner to keep his wife inside, and keep his hands off her and not abuse her, for he could not expect her to stop with him if he abused her. That would be about seven o’clock. Saw the prisoner next about nine o’clock in High-street, a little more than half a mile from his house, and he was coming from his house and going in the direction of William Hassall’s house. He came up to witness and said, “She’s given me the slip again, – as soon as she found the door open she slipped out. I expect she’s gone with that Joe Wright again.” He then put his hand in his pocket and offered witness some money, saying, “This is for what you have done for me tonight.” Witness refused to take it, and the prisoner offered it several times, and then he asked witness to have a glass of beer, which witness also declined. He then went away towards Hassall’s house. He appeared to be quite sober. Frederick Kelly’s house was close to. Next morning, at half-past ten, two men came to witness’s lodgings and asked him to go to prisoner’s house, No. 20, Willaston-terrace. Witness went, and found several people in the house. In the back kitchen he saw the deceased woman lying on the floor, dead. Her head was nearly under the window, and her feet towards the fireplace. She lay on her back, had her clothes on, and was partly covered with an old wrap. Her feet and head were not covered. She had no shoes on. Her head was inclined a little to the right side. Witness noticed a dark-coloured mark round the neck, as though there had been a rope or something pulled tightly round it. The skin was abrased a little, and some frothy substance had been running from her mouth. The body was quite cold and stiff. From the surroundings, which witness took notice of, he saw nothing that the woman could have strangled herself. There was a little table by the widow, and her head was nearly under the table. The left arm was across the breast and was covered with dust as if it had been rubbed on the floor, and the right arm lay along her side Witness looked for any cord or rope, but could find none. He then told the people not to move the body, and went and reported the matter to Sergeant Atherton. When he saw Joe Wright with them on Saturday night, Wright had some liquor.
Cross-examined by Mr. Wood: Was called into Pillory-street by a servant from the Railway Vaults about a row there. As he got there the three were just turned out of the -vaults. There were a great many people in the street, but not many accompanied them beyond the street. The prisoner, his wife, and her sister were all that went to Willaston-terrace. The deceased was very violent, but he did not see her strike at her husband, though he threatened to look her up for her noise. The prisoner spoke very kindly to the deceased, and witness did not hear him threaten or use any bad language to her. She was cursing him, and was very abusive. When witness left the three at Willaston-terrace they all went into the house together. When witness told prisoner not to ill use the deceased he said, “I’ll not touch her.” When he went to the house next morning the kitchen was nearly full of people. The substance at deceased’s mouth was of a yellowish colour, and not much of it. Her tongue was not protruding when he saw her…. Re-examined : People had said that the prisoner had abused his wife, and that was the reason why witness told him not to ill use her, Betsy Kitchen, wife of Edward Kitchen the deceased, said she and her husband lived with har father, William Hassall, Wych-house Bank, The deceased was in the habit of taking drink. Six weeks before her death she went away with a man named Joe Wright. She had often seen the prisoner and the deceased fighting when they were both drank. When deceased was away from the prisoner she lived with Joe Wright, and they lodged at Elisabeth Porter’s on the common. On Saturday evening, the 5th April, witness was coming up Pillory-street and saw a crowd, and amongst them was her sister, who was in drink. The prisoner wanted her to go home, and she wouldn’t go, and said if she did he would murder her. The prisoner was sober, and said he would not put a finger on her if she would go borne with him. She still said she would not go, because he would murder her. Saw P.C. Bebington come up, and went with them to the prisoner’s house. As the deceased was going in she said she would not live with the prisoner, and he said be wouldn’t touch her if she would sit down and be comfortable. The prisoner asked witness to go and buy some meat out of the market, and gave her 3s. 6d. She went and returned in about ten minutes. The prisoner and deceased were then in the front kitchen. The prisoner asked his wife to cook him some, and she said she would not eat another bit of meat with him as long as she lived. Witness did not remain more than five minutes, and during that time the deceased was making a noise and wanted to go out. Witness asked her if she would go with her, and she said she would go to her mother. The prisoner said she had better sit down and go out in the morning when she was sober. Witness then went away, and the prisoner asked her to come again and bring her husband with her. The deceased said, “Betsy, if you are going home, come up again, and bring my mother with you.” The deceased also said, as witness was going out, “If you go away you won’t see me any more.” Did not see her alive again. Did not know deceased’s age. Never saw the piece of rope produced in her father’s house before the 5th of April.
Cross-examined: The deceased was a very intemperate woman. She was given to drinking very heavily. Knew Joe Wright, and remembered him lodging at the prisoner’s house. The deceased went away from Willaston-terrace to live with Joe Wright, and before that with a man named Bret Simmons; didn’t know if he was a brother of the Simmons who lived in Willaston-terrace. She was intimate with a man named Turner, but did not leave her husband to live with him. The last time witness saw Turner and her together was at the prisoner’s house some time before deceased’s death. Mrs. Porter who lived on the Common did not live with her husband, and her house was a place of bad character. Joe Wright and the deceased lived there for a fortnight before her death. The prisoner asked his wife to go home very kindly, but she cursed him and was very violent in her language to him. He didn’t threaten her at all; and during the time witness remained at the prisoner’s house on Saturday night the prisoner never used an unkind word to her, and deceased all that time was violent in her language and protesting that she would not stop with him.
said he was a painter, and lived at 21, Willaston-terrace, next door to the
prisoner. The wall between the house was 4½ inches thick only, and he could
hear plainly what went on there. On the evening of the 5th April about seven
o’clock he heard a noise in the prisoner’s house while the last witness was there.
He heard the prisoner and the deceased quarrelling. The deceased was cursing
and swearing, and the prisoner was very quiet and told her to sit down. The
noise became louder when Betsy Kitchen went away to the market. He heard her
come back, and heard the deceased say to her, “Now, Betty, go and fetch Joe
Wright and tell him to come and protect me, I’m not going to be murdered here.”
Soon after that he heard Betsy Kitchen go out again, and after that the
quarrelling went on. She was cursing and swearing for a quarter of an hour, and
be heard her say she wanted to go out, and the prisoner said “You shan’t go out;
you shall stay with me all night.” She said, “If you won’t let me go out I’ll
break all the windows in the place.” Witness then heard her go to the back kitchen
and say, “If you won’t let me out I’ll jump through the window.” He then heard
a scuffle and cries of “murder” five or six times, as if the sound were uttered
with difficulty, and the last one was indistinct. After the last cry he heard a
footstep going up the stairs, and into the front bedroom; and in about a minute
it came down again and went into the back kitchen. He Heard nothing else at
that time; the house was quiet. Witness went out about half an hour after –
about 20 minutes past eight. He went to Nantwich for a paper, when he met the
prisoner about half-past eight coming from his home. Didn’t hear a single sound
in the prisoner’s house during the night. Next morning he noticed that the
front window blind of the prisoner’s house was down. About half-past six
o’clock he heard someone unlock the front door and go in, and he also heard
footsteps walking about, in the front place first, in the back kitchen next,
then in the back yard. These footsteps were heard for about ten minutes.
Cross-examined: Did not hear the prisoner say an unkind word to the woman while the noise was going on.
Re-examined: The first cry of murder was plain enough; the second was a gurgling sound, and they became gradually weaker. He knew her drunken voice; bad seen her drunk often, and had seen them fighting often.
By a Juryman: Was not listening attentively; could hear without.
The Judge: You say you heard all these sounds, why didn’t you interfere ?
Witness: They’re always fighting.
The Judge: But you didn’t always hear the woman crying “murder,” and these cries getting weaker?
Witness: She often cried out “murder.”
The Judge: But you describe something unusual; cries of “murder” getting fainter and fainter, then all getting quiet, then you bear one footstep. Didn’t that lead you to suspect anything wrong?
Witness: No my lord, it didn’t.
The Judge: It is a very sad thing. It never occurred to you to call in a policeman.
Witness : No; the prisoner talked so calmly that I never thought anything was wrong.
Ann Cooper, wife of the last witness, spoke to seeing the prisoner, his wife, and Mrs. Kitchen going into the house on the Saturday night. The deceased said she was not going in to he murdered, and he said, “Don’t be soft; I’ll not touch you, come in the house.” Witness heard quarrelling while Mrs Kitchen was out, and when she came back the deceased asked her to tell Joseph Wright to come and protect her. When Betsy Kitchen went away the deceased used very bad language and asked for her shawl. The prisoner said she would not have her shawl, she must stay with him that night and go out when she was sober. He also told her to sit down and be quiet. She said she was not going to stay in; it was too early; and if he did not let her out she would jump through the window. Witness then beard footsteps going towards the back kitchen ; then a scuffle followed, and there were screams from the deceased of murder, distinct at first, but gurgling and indistinct after, and then all was still. She then heard footsteps going up stairs and coming down again immediately after. Witness went out with her husband to buy the paper. Next morning about half-past six o’clock she heard the prisoner’s door unlocked and some one come in, and go into the back kitchen.
Cross-examined: Didn’t hear the prisoner use any bad language to the deceased on the Saturday night. Mary Gayter, wife of Thomas Gayter, said she lived at 18, Willaston-terrace. She saw the prisoner come home on the 5th April with his wife. She was drunk; he was sober. Witness heard the deceased say the policeman was bringing her up to be murdered. Witness asked the prisoner not to touch the deceased when he got her in, for it was of no use. The prisoner replied, ” I’ll never touch her no more, – I told you on Friday I wouldn’t.” They then went into the house. About ten o’clock on the following (Sunday) morning witness went into the prisoner’s house and saw deceased lying dead on the back kitchen floor. James Simmons and the prisoner was there. Witness said to the prisoner, “You’ve threatened her many a time; it’s done now.” The prisoner said, “I never did it; it’s been done for spite.” He sat down on the stairs and cried, and then went out. There was a red mark on the deceased’s neck, and the body was then quite cold, and stiff.
Cross-examined: Had seen the prisoner ill use his wife and strike her, but never kick her. James Simmons, shoemaker, said he lived at 14, Willaston -terrace. On Saturday, the 5th April, about a quarter to eight o’clock, he was along with his wife, passing the prisoner’s house, when he heard a noise. He then went to the backdoor and heard several screams of “murder,” as he was coming to the house. The last was uttered before he got to the house. The cries were strong at first, and then went weaker; the last one being like the last groan of a pig. Didn’t go into the house, because he thought they had been having a fight and had got quiet again. He had heard her –“skriking” murder many a time.
The Judge: You
seem to have thought it more than ordinary by going up to the back door. If you
had gone in you might have saved the woman’s life. The witness proceeded to say
that he saw the prisoner in his house at ten o’clock the following morning. He
said, “Someone has served me a nice trick at last.” A young man named Richard
Joinson, who was in witness’s company, said, “You’ve done it yourself.” and you
will be hanged for it. The prisoner appeared as if he had been crying.
Cross-examined: Heard the prisoner say to Joinson that he had nothing to do with it. There were at the time three or four women and three or four men present, He had a brother named Brittain Simmons, and he remembered the deceased and him going away to Manchester, together. This was ten or a dozen years ago. The prisoner, he believed, took her back.
Frederick Kelly, landlord of the Red Lion Inn, Nantwich, said he remembered the prisoner coming into the taproom about nine o’clock on the night of the 5th of April. After having a drink, he asked for a bed, but witness would not let him have one, as he was not the kind of man be would allow in his house. He made the request repeatedly. Witness asked him if he didn’t live in Nantwich, and he said he did, but was not going home that night. He remained about an hour, and purchased half a pint of whisky, which he took away, and before leaving held out his hand to witness, saying he wouldn’t see him again. The prisoner was a stranger to witness, On Sunday morning, about 12 o’clock, witness saw him coming along in custody of Sergeant Atherton, and he said, “You know what time I left your house; they say I have killed my wife.”
Cross-examined: Witness took it that his remark about not seeing him again referred to some previous remarks he had made that if the whisky were not good he would not come again. William Hassall, father of the deceased, said she had been married nearly 20 years. She was given to drink. Some time ago the prisoner spoke to him, and said he was very uneasy about his wife being with Joe Wright. Witness told him not to trouble himself, but let her go, and as he would then be single, and she would be sure to come back. He said he would be “the end” of her when she came back. The deceased did return to Nantwich about a fortnight before her death. On the night of the 5th April, after ten o’clock, the prisoner came to witness’s bouse smoking a cigar, and with a half a pint of whisky in a bottle. Mrs. Hassall asked him where his wife was, and he said “She’s given me the slip, and Betsy left the door open on purpose for her.” Witness and the prisoner sat down and drank the half pint of whisky, and then the prisoner sent for a pint more, and they drank nearly half of that. Witness went to bed about half-past eleven o’clock, but the prisoner sat by the fire until after twelve. Mrs Hassall wanted him to go to his own home, and be at first said he would, but ultimately wished to sleep where he was. He then went and lay down on David Hassall’s bed. Witness did not get any sleep for the prisoner speaking and muttering. He said several times, “Lizi, Liza, speak,” and he kept on muttering until about, five o’clock. Mrs. Hassall got up soon after five, and the prisoner got up about ten minutes after, and said he was going home. He left witness’s house, to which he returned about nine o’clock. James Simmons and Thomas Sherratt came to inquire for him, and he went away with them. Witness was a shoemaker, and in a cupboard in his kitchen he kept his lasts. On going there after dinner he saw the piece of rope produced lying amongst the lasts, “all of a ruck.” He observed that there were hairs and blood on it, and he at once took it to the police. The rope did not belong to him, and he never saw it before.
Cross-examined: Had been to the cupboard on the previous day. The deceased was given to drink, and was a powerful woman. She could take her part, and he had seen her knock the prisoner down, and be had also seen the prisoner knock her down. She could fight like a man. (Laughter.) The prisoner, when sober, was a quiet man. The prisoner had, to witness’s knowledge, muttered or spoken in his sleep.
Re-examined: If the cord had been where he found it on the Saturday he must have seen it when he was at the cupboard.
By the Judge: The cupboard was on one side of the kitchen from the stairs up which the prisoner would have to go to the bed, and about three yards distant. The Court adjourned at this point for twenty minutes. Hannah Hassall, wife of the last witness, said she had not seen the rope produced before her husband found it. When she got up early on Sunday morning she left a small bundle of clothes for her daughter and the prisoner wrapped in a coloured napkin. She went to the prisoner’s house at half-past ten o’clock, and saw the police-officer cut a piece of a clothes line upon which some of the clothes which were in the bundle were hanging. Ann Williams said she lived on the opposite side of the road from the prisoner. On Sunday morning, the 6th April, about six o’clock, witness was in the road knocking at a neighbour’s door, when she saw the prisoner coming along with a bundle in a coloured napkin under his arm. She could not say whether he went to his house or not. Sarah Sumner, who lives on the opposite side of the road from the prisoner, said she was outside her bouse soon after six o’clock on Sunday morning, the 6th April. She saw the prisoner coming out of his house, and he had a handkerchief to his face, as if he were crying. He locked the house door, and walked away towards Nantwich. Witness also observed a white sheet over the front window like a blind, a thing she had never noticed before. She saw the prisoner come back to the house about ten o’clock with some men. Jane Townsend, wife of Henry Townend, Bean- street, Nantwich, said the prisoner came to her house about five minutes to seven o’clock on Sunday morning, the 6th April. He asked her to fry him some meat which he had in his pocket. Witness asked him to go to his brother’s, and he went out and came back again, and said they had not a fire there. She then cooked the meat, and the prisoner sat on a chair while she did so, and cried bitterly. He said, “I’m in a of a mess, and after I’ve eaten this meat I’ll go and drown myself.”
William Hassall, brother to the deceased, said he lived within a stone’s throw of his father’s house at Wych-house Terrace. The prisoner came to his house between eight and nine o’clock on Sunday morning, April 6th, and he offered him some breakfast. Whilst he was getting it a knock came to the door, and the prisoner started and said, ” That’s a bobby for me.” Witness said, “Get out with your bother,” and on going to the door found it was a little girl. John Simmons, a shoemaker, who lived in Willaston- terrace, said in consequence of what he was told he went on the Sunday morning in question, about half- past nine, to the back yard of the prisoner’s house. He looked through the window and saw the prisoner’s wife lying dead on the floor, her head lying under a table close to the window. Witness then went in search of the prisoner and found him at bis father-in-law’s house. The prisoner said, “What’s amiss?” to which witness replied, “There’s enough amiss when thee gets home.” They then went towards the prisoner’s house together, and witness told the prisoner about his wife being dead. He said, “If her is dead I’ve not done it; Joseph Wright’s done it; he was with her last.” Witness said, “How could Joseph Wright do it when you was with her too last night?” The prisoner said, “We had a bit of bother and Eliza had gotten through the door and went away.” Witness asked, “How could Joseph Wright get in if he had no key?” and the prisoner said, “There’s three or four keys to the door, my father’s one, I’ve one, and Joseph Wright has one.” Witness said to the prisoner that one of the neighbours told him he had heard the deceased screaming murder the night before. Prisoner said he had not been home that night, he had been sleeping at her father’s. Witness told him he had been at home the night before, and the prisoner again said he hadn’t. He also said that somebody had served him a nice trick. When they got to the house the prisoner wished to go in the front way, and he unlocked the door and went in. When he got into the back kitchen he threw himself upon her and began crying out. There appeared to be a large bruise on deceased’s right temple. Witness said, “It’s no use making a noise when she’s dead,” and the prisoner got up and went into the front kitchen, sat down on a chair, and asked witness to sit down and say nothing about it. Witness said he should go and tell the police about it. He accordingly went for P.C. Bebington, and when they came to the prisoner’s house he had gone, and there was a fresh piece of wrapping thrown over her.
Police Sergeant McDonnell, stationed at Nantwich, said the piece of rope given to him by William Hassall, senr., he put in an envelope and locked it up at the office. There was a running noose on the rope, and he observed hairs and blood upon it. Police Sergeant Atherton said he went to the prisoner’s house a little before twelve on the Sunday morning and saw the deceased lying on the kitchen floor. The pocket of her dress was inside out. Seeing the mark round the neck and the discolouration of the face he looked for rope and found a clothes line with some clean clothes hanging on it. The rope had been out by the coroner’s jury. He apprehended the prisoner at his brother-in-law’s house in Beam-street, and said “I shall want you to come to the police office with me.” The prisoner said “What for? – for that job up yonder.” On the way they met Mr. Kelly, the publican to whom the prisoner spoke. At the police station he charged the prisoner on suspicion of causing his wife’s death by strangulation. The prisoner replied “I know naught about it. Its either Joe Wright has done it; or her has done it herself; it’s a bad job.” He received the piece of rope produced from Sergeant McDonnell the same afternoon and saw two human hairs and fresh blood stains on it. On the following morning witness Charged the prisoner with murdering his wife by strangling her with that piece of rope, and he replied, “I never had the rope; I never saw the rope, God knows.” Witness had compared the two pieces of rope and found them to correspond, in his opinion, precisely. He examined the back kitchen to see if there was any place to attach the rope to, but found none. The rope with the hairs and marks of blood were sent to the county analyst, together with some hair from the deceased woman’s head.
Mr. J. Carter Bell, the county analyst, stated that on the 10th April he examined two parcels sent him by the police. He found the piece of rope marked with iron mould at the loop, and three or four stains of blood, which he analysed and found to be mammalian blood. He also found two hairs on the rope of different colour, one 14 inches long and the other six inches long, the former having the appearance of having been violently severed not at the roots, and the other having a cut appearance. He compared them with the packet of hair cut from the deceased head, and was of opinion that they were human hairs And corresponded with her hair which differed in colour.
Dr. Monroe, Nantwich, said he knew the deceased for some months, and had attended her for a wound in the temple. On Sunday morning, the 6th April, he was sent to go to her house, and he went and found the body in the kitchen. The body was stretched out, with both arms lying across the chest. He found a mark on the front of the neck extending on the sides to appoint a little below the ears. There was no mark of that kind at the back of the neck, and it seemed deeper and broader in front. It had a brownish colour, and was about an eighth of an inch in thickness. He noticed a mark on the left side of the head towards the back, which seemed to be the result of a recent brews, being elevated. He observed a blue mark, as of a bruise, on the right wrist. He concluded that death was caused by strangulation, and the mark on the neck might be produced by the rope which was found. He made a post-mortem examination on the 8th of April, and found that the skin of the neck had been abraded but not cut through, and the muscles under the skin were not lacerated. He thought that considerable force would be required to produce the marks he found. He found the back of the neck and shoulders were ecchymosed all over, but he could not say whether or not this was recent. There were two small marks ecchymosed as from a blow over the left temple. The tongue was then slightly protruded, and the pupils of the eyes dilated. He found the brain loaded with blood, but apparently healthy; the lungs were congested very much, the liver slightly congested also, and rather large; but there was nothing to produce death from natural causes. The result of the post-mortem examination confirmed his previous opinion that death was caused by strangulation, and in his opinion the disease could not have strangled herself. She had been dead for some hours before he served her.
Cross-examined: Death could not have been the result of apoplexy, as there was no clotting of the brain.
Re-examined: He had formed a theory that the rope was thrown round the women’s neck, Who had held away with one hand, and the noose pulled with the other.
Joseph Wright, Nantwich, said he was the person with whom Eliza Sherratt had been living. On the night of the 5th April he remembered being with Bebington trying to persuade the deceased to go home to her husband. He only went a few yards with them and turned back when the policeman told him. He went about the streets, and was in several public houses, being in the Swan at seven o’clock and back and forward till after eight. He was not at the prisoner’s house that night. He was fresh in beer that night.
Cross-examined: He had a key of the prisoner’s house, but left it at Manchester. He was at another public-house besides the Swan, and was refused drink at one. He got a black eye that night, having been in a row in the street.
Re-examined: He had nothing to do with the woman’s death; never saw her after he proceeded homewards with her husband and the policeman.
Mary Brereton, a married woman, said she saw the prisoner about Pillory-street and the Swan before and after eight o’clock.
This was the case for the prosecution, and there being no witnesses for the defence.
Mr. Swetenham summed up bis case, and remarked with reference to the defence suggested that the woman might have died from apoplexy, that Dr. Munro positively gave his opinion that such could not have been the case; and as to the prisoner’s assertion that she did it herself, there was nothing in the back kitchen to which the rope could have been attached, and the doctor said it must have required considerable force to cause strangulation. Another suggestion of the prisoner’s was that Joe Wright did it. Now, he (Mr. Swetenham) had nothing in the world to say in favour of Joe Wright. His conduct could not be palliated or excused for a moment. He had been guilty of conduct that he hoped to his dying day he would be ashamed of. But that was not the, question for their consideration; it was did he murder that woman or the prisoner at the bar. He didn’t think after such evidence as they had heard, that such a case would be set up. As near as they could guess, about a quarter to eight that woman died. Where was Joseph Wright at that time? They had got positive evidence that he was drinking about in public houses in Nantwich. On the other hand they had got ample evidence that the prisoner was with his wife in the house about this time. Commenting on the indifference of the neighbours and their non-interference on bearing the cries of murder, Mr. Swetenham said their conduct was most unmanly, and blameworthy, and he trusted all the workmen of Nantwich were not like Cooper and James Simmons. Referring to the questions of Mr. Burke Wood for the defence as to the deceased woman’s character, Mr. Swetenham remarked that there could be no manner of doubt this woman was a bad wife. Perhaps of all the blessings that heaven can send, a virtuous, godly, affectionate wife is the greatest, and I quite agree on the other hand that of all the curses a man could have in this world, a wife who bore the opposite character might be the greatest; but the husband must not forget that when they pledged themselves to be man and wife he called God to witness that he would comfort and protect her and cherish her for the rest of her life ; and although she did turn out a bad wife, the law of this country called upon us to protect her. If a man chose to marry and have a wife he took her for better or worse; he might not go and lay a finger upon her. He was greatly to be pitied; at the same time it must not be permitted for a moment that because she made a bad wife he was at liberty to make away with her. However bad she was, if she had been ten times worse, he was bound to protect her.
Mr. Burke Wood then addressed the jury for the defence, and at the outset impressed upon the jury the importance and seriousness of the issue involved in the trial. He admitted that the prosecution had been con- ducted with fairness, and counselled the jury to dismiss from their minds any knowledge of the circumstances of the case which they might have derived from the newspaper reports and other outside sources, and to form their decision simply and solely from the evidence which had been tendered before them. He did not think that a more miserable account could possibly have been given than the account they had heard of the lives of the prisoner and his wife, which, as Mr. Swetenham said, was another addition to the dark category of crimes by drink. He thought they might say that drink had caused firstly and lastly the whole of the tragedy which had really deformed the lives of these people for a number of years past He asked them not to place such a serious construction upon expressions used by the prisoner and his wife, for they had seen how one of them which might probably have been taken to imply that the prisoner was taking a last farewell of the world, simply meant, that he might not come to see the landlord of “a certain public-house again if his whiskey were no. good. He cautioned them to have a most careful attention to these exaggerations, and pointed out that James Simmons, who gave such a fearful account of the sounds be heard, not unlikely exaggerated the facts, though unintentionally, and therefore his evidence and the evidence of some of the others ought to be discounted. The case was one wholly of circumstantial evidence, and in such cases there must be an unbroken and strong chain of evidence to lead to a conviction. Ho had no doubt it had occurred to many in the court that they had in the adjoining county a case which had been the talk through the length and breadth of the country, and which showed that circumstantial evidence was not infallible. Yet he did not wish to say to them that they should from fear of consequences not give a verdict of guilty if they thought such a verdict a proper one. The theory of the prosecution was that on the night of the 5th of April the prisoner get the deceased to go back to bis house against her will and against her exclamations that she would be murdered there, and that she didn’t like to go with a murdering devil like him into the house; that having got her there he perpetrated that crime for which he was now taking his trial. Now, he asked the jury, was there anything at all in the whole case that would point to anything like premeditation on the part of the prisoner. Ten years ago the deceased woman broke her marriage vows, went off with another man, and remained away for some time. Did the prisoner show any vindictive feeling towards her, and did her conduct supply a motive? He received the woman back to his house and treated her kindly. Again they found this woman leaving her husband and living with another man, and yet in spite of all this infidelity he did not use violence to her, but received her back into his house and home. A third time she went away, six weeks ago, with Joe Wright, who, being a lodger with the prisoner, and almost in the capacity of a guest, outraged his feelings and honour by taking his wife away with him. She remained away for a month, and then came back about a fortnight before her death, and lived in open adultery, in a house of ill-fame at Nantwich. But after all this, the prisoner, quite sober, hearing of his wife and her paramour being at the Railway Vaults, goes there to try and induce her to return home with him. And all the witnesses who spoke to seeing and hearing them this night testified that the woman was very drunk and violent, that the man was sober, and was trying to persuade her to go into his house, and behaving in the kindest way; and that they didn’t hear him use a single unkind word to her, while she was so abusive and violent that the police officer had to threaten to look her up. Counsel then went on to ask the jury to regard in a different light the expressions of the woman in which she called her husband “a murdering d—–l” and that she would not go into the house “to be murdered,” from what might by some people be attached to them. Persons of the class of this women used these expressions freely without meaning literally what they implied, and he asked them whether they thought it likely, if the woman really expected she would forfeit her life by going her husband’s house that she would have gone in. There was nothing further from the mind of the prisoner than premeditation; if that were in his mind he would have been sure to have shown it, for he would have been sure to have replied to his wife’s violent language, in terms as violent; and had that been done such expressions would have been heard by the Cooper’s and yet none such were heard. The counsel was then proceeding to suggest to the jury that they had it in their power to find a prisoner charged with murder guilty only of a minor offence, when
The Judge interrupted him, saying he did not acquiesce in that law. Manslaughter could not be found as a mere minimising finding of murder On the contrary, the law was where homicide was proved to have been committed by a particular person the onus rested upon that person of reducing it to manslaughter. It was not a matter of option.
Mr. Burke Wood: If the jury think that the case of murder is not made out–
The Judge said then they might acquit the prisoner, but unless there was something shown which reduced the crime to manslaughter the jury could not bring in manslaughter merely out of charitable feeling. They must have evidence before them which must affirmatively satisfy them that the crime was so reducible. They had no right to find manslaughter without evidence of manslaughter.
Mr. Wood went on to say that he thought they might take this into their consideration that at this time there were no unkind words spoken by the prisoner, nothing had been said or done by him as far as they were aware to coerce his wife further than to restrain her by his voice, telling her she could not go out. No eye saw what hand committed the act which deprived the woman of her life, and the whole case was of so circumstantial a nature that he again urged upon them the necessity of most carefully weighing the evidence before they said the prisoner was guilty at all. The risk was great, therefore the chain of evidence must be strong and he submitted to them that there was not that sort of connecting link and strong, unbroken chain which would induce the jury to convict the prisoner of murder. They had heard all the evidence, and he thought they would say when they took the whole of the circumstances into consideration, and the fact that the prisoner by his long kind treatment of his wife might be presumed to have had such affection for her as would have shielded her from such an attack being made by him, he thought they would hesitate before they said that the prisoner at the bar was guilty of this charge. The doctor gave them his theory of how the strangulation of the deceased was caused. But it was only a speculation, and might they not take another theory. The last thing they heard the woman doing was threatening to jump through the window for the purpose of joining her paramour Wright. Suppose then she carried this threat into effect, and that in an instant the prisoner by means of this piece of rope tried to bold her back, that it got round her throat and so strangled her in the struggle. He submitted that the case was so fraught with doubt that they could not with safety find the prisoner guilty on this indictment. They must remember that the prisoner had all along treated the deceased with kindness, notwithstanding her infidelity; and if a doubt arose in their minds ? and he submitted it was full of doubt? then the prisoner was entitled to the benefit of it, and to an acquittal in consequence. It remained with them to say whether he was to be left for execution, or whether he was to be restored to scenes in which his life would he a brighter and happier one than during the last twenty years.
The following witnesses as to character were then called:-
Walter Stringer Williamson, surveyor to the Nantwich Local Board, said the prisoner had been employed by him since 1875. He was an industrious man, and his conduct always gave witness the impression that he was a civil, quiet, inoffensive man. Thomas Atkinson, a master pavier at Nantwich, said he had known the prisoner for three years. He had worked for him nearly all that time, and was as good a man as he had in Nantwich. The Judge then summed up the case, and laid down the law very plainly to the jury as affecting murder and manslaughter and the distinction between them. In investigating a case of this description they must not convict a man of murder unless they were fairly convinced that the crime was brought home to him, and on the other hand if the evidence did convince them, they were not to give way to a mere charitable or sentimental feeling. They had to do their without fear or thinking what the consequences might hey if the prosecution had satisfied them that the death of this woman was by the hand of the prisoner comma then it was the duty of the defence to show that it was not homicide or murder; but he was bound to tell them that he could not in this case see any reasonable evidence of manslaughter. The law did not allow of provocation by words, except in peculiar cases, to justify a man in killing another. There might be oases where homicide was reducible to manslaughter if only words were used. For instance, if very gross provocation was received by words of insolence to the wife of another man, or his sister, or his daughter, and that man in his passion took up something which lay near him and suddenly and at the time caused a fatal injury, that in his (the Judge’s) judgment was reasonable ground for reducing the homicide to manslaughter. Words of abuse, especially when coming from a woman to a man, would not entitle him to take a knife and stab her or a rope and strangle her. In this case, the question was did the evidence converge, or come together, so as to make a chain of circumstances which left them no reasonable or proper doubt that Eliza Sherratt died by the hands of the prisoner. It was said by the prisoner that she might have done it herself, but he (the Judge) was bound to say there was no evidence of that kind; there was nothing to hang the rope on in the kitchen, and it was generally admitted to be practically impossible for persons to strangle themselves by pulling a rope round their neck. It was, therefore, difficult to point out any alternative but that the prisoner strangled her, because though they might by conceiving any great possibility that he went out, leaving the woman alive in the house, and that be- tween that time and the morning some one else got in and strangled her, still there were many parts of the evidence which pointed very much against such a supposition. The evidence in this case against the prisoner was wholly circumstantial, though there were three witnesses who did not depose what was commonly called circumstantial evidence. They spoke not to seeing an act committed, but to hearing a noise, a conversation, screaming, and a particular noise, which one of them described as growing fainter and fainter, and another as resembling the last dying groan of a pig when stuck. He did not like to use strong language, but it was to be regretted that these persons did not behave in a more manly way, for they could not have been in the habit of hearing such sounds before. It was painful to think that a man could walk along the street, as the witness Simmons did, and be attracted by these, to him, unusual sounds, and yet not give any alarm or give information to the police. It was not necessary to establish a case of murder that there should be that sort of premeditation which would be implied if the man had coaxed her to come to his house for the purpose of killing her, but if after getting there he became provoked, say by her determination to go to Wright, and that then he killed her, that would be murder, and if a man, disgusted with his wife’s misconduct, chose to make an end of her, and made an end of himself immediately after, that would still be murder. This was a very painful case, and this woman was a wife of a very bad character. She certainly left her home twice, if not more, with other men, and there did not seem to be anything in her husband’s conduct to lead to her going away. Yet that did not justify him in putting his wife to death. If he had unexpectedly witnessed an act of adultery on her part, and then in an instant in his passion had taken her life, there would have been mitigating circumstances to reduce the crime to manslaughter; but in this case the prisoner had again and again condoned and pardoned her adultery, and was ?Killing to take her back. His Lordship then at considerable length went over the evidence, and remarked it reference to the charge by the prisoner that Wright had taken bis wife’s life, that there was nothing to connect him with her death, though he did not appear to be a reputable character by any means. The Jury retired to consider their verdict at six o’clock, and returned to court after an absence of about 85 minutes. Their names having been called over in the usual way, Mr. Crompton, Clerk of Assizes, put the usual question as to their verdict.
The Foreman: Guilty, and we very strongly recommend him to mercy on account of the very great provocation which we consider he received from his wife.
Mr. Crompton then called upon the prisoner in the customary way, and be replied in a low voice, “I have nothing to say.”
The Judge then assumed the “black cap” and said: “William Sherratt, you have been found guilty of wilful Murder, and in my opinion, upon the evidence, the Jury could have come to no other conclusion, for however badly your wife may have behaved to you, and though no doubt her misconduct with other people may have been trying to a man’s temper and to a person who I rather judge from the evidence, was with all his faults very much attached to his wife, yet the law does not permit a person to take away human life because he feels himself aggrieved. Persons have not any right of the kind, nor could human society exist if persons who were wronged by others, even by wicked persons, were to take the law into their own hands and so take away life There is no part of a Judge’s duty more painful than that of passing sentence of death, but the Judge is merely the administrator of the law. and has to do that which the law requires for the protection of the inhabitants of the country and of human beings in general. I have nothing to add, nothing to say which would intentionally hurt or affect you more painfully than the present circumstances must do. You have been found guilty of wilfully causing the death of a human being; for that you must be sentenced to the extreme penalty of the law. The jury have added to their verdict a strong recommendation to mercy. With the effect of that I have nothing to do, but all I ought to say is that that recommendation shall be forwarded to the proper quarter, to those who advise her Majesty both as to the remission or as to the commutation of punishments; but you must not from that recommendation entertain hopes which may prove entirely fallacious. I express no opinion upon what Her Majesty’s advisers may think fit to do; all I can say is that I will take care that it is forwarded to them. The Judge then passed sentence of death in the usual form. The prisoner, who maintained throughout the trial an apparently unconcerned demeanour, received the death sentence very quietly, and was immediately removed below. He is a man of the ordinary labouring class, below the average height, and not of an intelligent appearance.
You may be interested to know that a ballad was written about this tragic affair: