Burglary and Attempted Murder in Stansted

Essex Standard 1863



About seven o'clock on the 4th inst, the quiet village of Stansted Montfitchett was thrown into a state of the greatest alarm by cries for help proceeding from the residence of Mr. William White, an independent gentleman, and formerly a miller at Manuden, but now residing on the Cambridge high road, midway between Newport and Bishop Stortford.

It appears that the servant girl came down stairs about seven, and on reaching the hall she found a secretaire had been, broken open, and the contents strewn about; seeing other things to be in a similar state, she immediately returned upstairs and warned her master. Mr. White, who hurried on a few things and came down; and upon looking round the lower part of the house he found the cellar door open, which made him suspect that some one was still in the house. He sent the servant for a light; and they then began to descend the stairs, but had not got down many steps when a man yelled out and fired a pistol, but fortunately without effect, though upon after examination, it was found that the staircase was splintered, and a number of shot were picked up by police-constable Puxley.

Mr. White then hurried to the door and repeatedly called out "murder", bringing the neighbours to his assistance, when he returned to the spot with a gun. Upon proceeding through the house they found that the burglar, armed with a loaded pistol, had just reached the lawn, where, bewildered by the light, he seemed uncertain which way to retreat, added to which his exit was rendered next to impossible by a very high wall. He appeared to be determined upon resistance, but, upon being surrounded, and Mr. White presenting a gun at his breast, he threw down the pistol and surrendered at discretion.

The fellow was taken into custody by police-constable Puxley, and upon being searched there were found upon him a peculiarly-constructed flask, containing powder, shot, and percussion caps, and a broken knife that had been used for effecting an entrance, the remaining part of the blade being afterwards found by the constable under the drawing-room window, where he had effected an entrance.

The man gave the name of Clement Fletcher, but obstinately refused to give any place of abode. He is a tall, stout fellow, and from several appearances about his clothes, &c., he is suspected of having but lately been in gaol. After entering the house by the drawing-room window, he appears to have taken Mr. White's gun, removed the lock, and hid it under a mat. He had then apparently been unable to continue his operations in the dark, and lay down upon the sofa to await the coming light. He had forced open boxes and drawers, tea-caddies and workboxes in the drawing and dining-rooms, and strewn the contents in all directions. In the pantry he had broken open a box, and eaten a portion of a pie in the same place, but there was no trace of any of the property having been removed.

On the 6th inst. the prisoner was brought up at Newport police-station before W. C. Smith, Esq., the chairman of this divisional bench, charged with attempting to murder Mary Ann Barnard (the servant girl of Mr. White), and also with burglary.

Mr. White's evidence was corroborative of the above facts, but in addition he stated that he distinctly perceived the prisoner when in the cellar point the pistol at the servant girl, and that when he retreated to the door for assistance the prisoner came out of the cellar and got into the back garden, to which place he was followed by the neighbours.

Mrs. White and Miss Whistler, a visitor at Mr. White's, also gave evidence of a corroborative character. The latter young lady also spoke to having heard a noise shortly after retiring to rest, and upon this the prisoner impudently cross-questioned her, and said it could not have been him, for "the house was not broken into till five hours after that."

The servant girl, who is about 18 years of age, having related the circumstances of discovering the hall and drawing and dining rooms to be in a state of disorder on the morning in question, said that she then gave the alarm, when her master and mistress came downstairs, and the former accompanied her to the cellar, and that on reaching the fourth step, she heard a noise and perceived a man pointing a pistol, which he discharged at her, the shot striking the step on which she stood.

Police-constable Puxley deposed to finding the prisoner in custody of some of the inhabitants. He took him back to the house of Mr. White, and then discovered that the entrance had been effected by removing a square of glass from the drawing-room window; he charged him with having committed the offence, to which the prisoner made no reply. He then searched him, and found in his jacket pocket a knife with the end broken off, and also a flask, with powder, shot, and percussion caps. From Mr. White he received the loaded pistol, and from his wife a portion of the blade of a knife, which she had picked up in the garden on the outside of the drawing-room window, and which fitted the broken blade he took from the prisoner. The broken knife also tallied with the marks on the boxes found broken open.

After other testimony of an equally clear character had been adduced against the accused, he was called upon for his defence, when he remarked that he had "nothing to say," and made his signature to this answer in a bold and firm hand.

The magistrates committed the prisoner to take his trial at the next Assize at Chelmsford on the charges of burglary and attempted murder.

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