Child Murder and Attempted Suicide

Essex County Chroniclde - Friday January 6 1911


Friday, January 6, 1911.




On Monday Dr. J. Harrison, coroner for East Essex, held inquest at the Parish Room, Hatfield Peverel, upon Florence Madden Brewer, the infant daughter of Eleanor Potter, aged 27, wife of Alfred Potter, aged 30, a groom-gardener, employed at the Lodge, Hatfield Peverel. The child, aged 8 months, was the illegitimate daughter of Mrs. Eleanor Potter, before marriage with Potter, and its body was found in a manure heap at the Lodge, on Sunday afternoon, by the police, under circumstances which caused a sensation in Hatfield Peverel.

The circumstances under which the body was found, and those which led up to the discovery, together with the story of strange behaviour on the part of the husband of the mother of the child, were related at the inquest. Mr. Charles Henry Watson was elected foreman of the jury, the Coroner announcing that Mr. Collingwood Hope, K.C., had volunteered to serve, but as the inquest would have to be adjourned it was thought Mr. Hope's public duties might interfere with the course of the inquiry. The jury went to view the body, and were shown in a shed at the Lodge the remains, quite unrecognisable through decomposition, of a little baby, which were placed in a box. Around the decomposed body was wrapped a baby's clothing. The manure heap in which the body was found was close by the shed, and this also was inspected by the jury.


The Coroner, addressing the jury, said: You are summoned to inquire into the death of an infant child, supposed to be Florence Madden Brewer, the child of Eleanor Potter, who is wife of Alfred Potter, groom-gardener, of Hatfield Peverel.

This child was not born in wedlock. The body was found in a manure heap at the Lodge, Hatfield Peverel, at 4.30 on Sunday afternoon. Since it it was found Dr. Gimson and Dr. Combe, of Witham, were called, and Dr. Gimson was asked to make an examination of the remains. He will tell you as far as he can make out, and give an opinion as to the age of the infant, and everything possible for any medical man or pathologist to say regarding the child. In addition he will say it is impossible to determine what was the cause of the child's death, on account of decomposition.

If this body is proved to be that of Florence Madden Brewer, the child was born on April 4 last at Dunmow, and for some time was kept by Mrs. Potter's sister at Barking. In the early part of November last the child was brought to its mother at Hatfield Peverel, and a few days afterwards Potter asked his wife if she would like to part with the baby, and she said she would hand it over. He said a few days later that the lady who would take the baby was at Mrs. Evitt's house, and that he would take the baby to her. Mrs. Potter dressed the child, and her husband took it away, as she thought, to Mrs. Evitt's house, and the mother heard nothing more about the child until Saturday, Dec. 31, when she was at work at Mrs. Evitt's and some conversation arose as to how the child was getting on. Then, the whole matter came out.

The police made careful enquiries, and went to the house. On questioning Potter about the child he ran away, and the constable - P.c. Everard - pursued him. Potter seems to have tried to drown himself, but the constable rescued him from a pond, got him out of the water, and took him back to his house. After receiving some attention, some questions were put to Potter, which he did not answer clearly. Then his wife, Mrs. Potter, went out, and the constable had to go in search of her. While the constable was absent, Alfred Potter got hold of a razor and again attempted his life by cutting his throat. He made a very severe gash in his throat, but fortunately did not succeed in cutting the large arteries or veins.

Having done this, it was necessary to have a doctor attend the man, and Dr. Gimson dressed his wounds, and ordered his removal to the Braintree Union Infirmary. Before starting Potter told the police that they would find the body of the child in a manure heap. The manure heap was dug over, and the body was there found in the position shown to the jury by the police.

These are the circumstances of the case, and they will require very careful attention. I have this morning inquired a the Braintree Union Workhouse, and find that the man is in a fairly satisfactory condition. He is in an extremely nervous state, and no statement can be obtained from him at present. It will be necessary today to take preliminary evidence, then we shall adjourn the inquiry to a future date. Certainly this man won't be able to attend next week, and I think it would be better to adjourn for a fortnight.



Eleanor Potter, mother of the child whose body was supposed to have been found, was called and addressed by the Coroner as follows:

I am going to ask you questions and you can answer them if you like. If you refuse I shall take down your refusal, any answer you may give might be used against you at a subsequent inquiry. You are at liberty to make any statement you like.

Are you the wife of Alfred Potter?

Mrs Potter: I am; he is a groom-gardener, and we live at Hatfield Peverel. I was married to Alfred Potter on July 29 last, and since the second week in August my husband has worked for Mr. Henry Evitt at the Lodge, Hatfield Peverel.

Did you have a child April last year? -Yes, sir.

Was it named Florence Madden Brewer? -Yes, sir.

When you first came to Hatfield Peverel your child was living at Barking? -Yes, sir.

You lived at your husband's mother's house at Langford before coming to Hatfield Peverel? -Yes.

When did the child come to Hatfield Peverel? -I think about the end of October or the beginning of November.

Where from? -Barking.

Who brought the child? - My sister, Mrs. Bridge, of 37 Salisbury-avenue, Barking.

Did she stay with you when she brought the child? - She came on a Saturday and stayed till Monday.

Was the child in good health then? -Yes.

And had been well cared for? -Yes.

Was your husband pleased when the child came to your house, did he make any to do? -He did not say a word, but he seemed a little bit disappointed. I said nothing, but put it down to a bad cold he had that he did not speak.

The Coroner: In two or three days did your husband talk about the child or take any interest in it? -No, sir; he took very little interest.

After your sister had returned did your husband suggest you should send the baby away somewhere? -He asked me if I would care to part with the baby, saying that Mrs. Evitt knew a lady friend who would take the baby for love only. He told me this one dinner-time, and I said I would think it over. He said Mrs. Evitt had seen me out with the child.

Were you willing that Mrs. Evitt's friend should take the child? -I thought about it, and said as the child would go to a good home I would agree. He said the child was going to a lady's house at Witham.


How many days later did he say he would take the child? -He asked me about it on the Wednesday, and on the following Friday said he would take my baby - that would be the second Friday in November. My husband came home and said, "Get the baby ready; the lady is at Mrs. Evitt's house."

So I went upstairs and dressed the baby, put on its pelisse and cap, and I kissed the little thing before I handed it to my husband. Mrs. Potter, who is a remarkably clean and tidy- looking young woman, wept bitterly at this point, and the Coroner waited for her to recover.

Did your husband take the baby away ? Yes. sir.

When he came back did he bring any of the child's clothes with him? -Yes, brought the frock, pinafore, bib, coat, and socks. [Crying again.]

What did he say? He said the lady had brought some lovely things for the baby to go away in.

Did you ask him about the child after it had gone?- Yes. several times; and he said the lady had not been to Mrs. Evitt's house, but the child was getting on all right. I said it must be all right, or we should have heard.

Saturday, Dec. 31, did you go to Mrs. Evitt's house to do housework? -Yes; and had some conversation with her about the baby.

In consequence of what Mrs. Evitt told you, you knew there was something wrong? - Yes, sir (crying).

Your husband told you a story which satisfied you for the time? -Yes, sir.

You knew nothing about the child getting into the manure heap?- No. sir, not a word. It is quite a secret from me (crying).

You are quite satisfied that you have told the truth? -Yes, sir.

One more question. Was your husband the father of his child? -No, sir.


Mr. Henry Evitt, of the Lodge, Hatfield Peverel, said he had independent means. On Jan. 1 he saw Alfred Potter, his groom, and his wife. He heard the story of both Mr. and Mrs. Potter concerning the child, and as a consequence he called in the policeman. P.s. Brand, of Witham, said he received information on Sunday afternoon that a man had attempted suicide at Hatfield Peverel, and, found Alfred Potter being attended by Dr. Gimson. Potter had a wound in his throat, and the witness asked him why he had attempted to commit suicide, to which Potter replied:- "I have something on my mind. When the policeman spoke to me this morning it frightened me. My dear wife don't know anything about it."

Witness asked Potter, "About what?" and Potter replied:- "About the child; you will find it in the dunghill."

Witness sent Potter to the Workhouse Infirmary in company with the village nurse and a blacksmith named Harris. In company with P.c. Everard, he dug up the manure heap, and nearly at the bottom, on some stalks of chrysanthemums, he found a bundle tied round with rope and some hay. When Dr. Gimson came the bundle was undone, and was found contain a decomposed body.


Dr. E. C, Gimson, of Witham, stated: On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 1, I received a call at one o'clock to Hatfield Peverel. I went by motor and found Dr. Combe there and Alfred Potter. Potter had a wound 4 inches long right across his throat. The windpipe was partly severed, and there was a fair amount of bleeding, but the large arteries had been missed. It was certainly a dangerous wound, and he might succumb to it. A fortnight would be the least time under favourable circumstances in which Potter would be well enough to attend inquest. I was asked by the police to examine the body of a child. It was in an advanced state of decomposition, owing to the heat of the manure heap, and it is impossible for any pathologist to state the cause of death. I will give further details at the adjourned inquest.

P.c. Everard stated that, as Coroner's officer for Hatfield Peverel, he did not receive any notification of death either from Eleanor Potter or Alfred Potter during last year. The Coroner said that was all the evidence he had to offer that day, and the inquest would be adjourned for a fortnight, when the police would engage legal assistance in conducting the case, and he hoped then to complete the inquest. The several witnesses were bound over to appear a fortnight later.


The injured man, Alfred Potter, lies in the infirmary at Braintree Workhouse, with a policeman beside his bed, and arrangements have been made by the police at Braintree and Witham to have a policeman to watch Potter night and day until the resumed inquest.



A representative of the Essex Herald was informed that Potter ran out of his cottage, close by Mr. Harris's blacksmith's shop at Hatfield Peverel, and up the road until he got to a pond close to the Church. Into the water Potter jumped, and P.c. Everard, who had given chase, jumped in after him, and pulled the man out the water. When they got back to the cottage Mrs. Potter went out, and P.c. Everard went in search of her, leaving a young man named Harris to look after Potter. When he left, Potter asked Harris to go upstairs and get him a dry shirt, as he was shivering with cold and wet through. Harris went for the shirt, and when he came downstairs Alfred Potter's throat was cut from ear to ear.

The rest of the story is contained in the evidence given at the inquest. The neighbours describe Mrs. Potter as a respectable and tidy woman, who always kept her baby clean and well. Not much is known of the parties in Hatfield Peverel, as they had only lived in the village for a few weeks. The cottage of the Potters was locked up, and the police took possession of the key.

Another account states: The people were just leaving church, and a commotion was caused by Potter's sudden appearance, heading straight for the Priory Pond, about 50 yards off, followed by P.c. Everard. Potter, who was without hat or coat, and was looking very excited, reached the bank before could he could be intercepted, took a desperate plunge, landed several yards from the bank, and stuck in the mud up to his waist, and could not move either in or out. P.c. Everard went and handed him out - a large crowd having assembled - and took him home, leaving him in charge of W. Harris, while he went to make some investigations.

He had not left long before Potter asked Harris to fetch him a dry shirt, and he then immediately made a determined effort to cut his throat. Mrs. Draper arrived and helped to bind him up, A. Hales rode his cycle to Witham for medical assistance, and. Dr. Combe was quickly on the spot.


Dr. E. C. Gimson. of Witham, began the examination of the baby's remains at Hatfield on Monday evening. The cause of death could not be ascertained, owing to advanced decomposition. On Wednesday Drs. E. C. Gimson and O. Combe, of Witham, held a second post-mortem. The portions of the little body had been carefully washed, and the doctors took away in a tin box all the vital parts and bones to be submitted to further examination. The other parts of the body were returned to the box which the police had made, and the Coroner, Dr. Harrison, issued order to Mr. C. Blanks, relieving officer of Braintree, to bury these, which the inquest certificate described "the remains of a child, supposed to be Florence Madden Brewer, aged seven months." Effect was given to this order yesterday, as reported on page 8.

Up to the present there has been no evidence given purporting to identify the remains as those of the missing child. Mrs. Potter's baby was born, not at Dunmow, but at the Great Easton Maternity Home; the mother, who belonged to Barking, had been engaged in a shop in London. She has informed the police that Alfred Potter knew she had had this baby a few months before he married her. On the husband's side it is suggested that there may be some doubt on this point, but, however that may be, the young married couple lived very happily together at Hatfield Peverel, where Mrs. Potter's sister took the baby from Barking. Alfred Potter now lies in the Braintree Workhouse Infirmary; three policemen take turns of eight hours each watching him, so that he is never left. He has not been charged with any offence. On Monday his aged mother drove over from Langford to see her son, and she was admitted to the room for a few minutes. Alfred Potter recognised his mother, who kissed him, and an affectionate interview took place.

No one else has been or will be allowed to see Potter, and the nurses and police watchers (they are in plain clothes) are strictly instructed not to discuss the tragedy with him. H condition is nervous and excited, but, failing complications from the injury to the throat, he is expected to recover.

The wife of the injured man, Mrs. Eleanor Potter, whose baby is supposed to be missing, left Hatfield on Monday night and proceeded to Barking.

When Alfred Potter was driven to the Braintree Workhouse in a motor on Sunday afternoon, he was admitted as an emergency patient, and the Workhouse Master, Mr. C. H. Barlow, at once informed the police that, in the circumstances of the case, they must take the responsibility of having him watched. As a result of this representation, constables were deputed for the duty.


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