Double Murder at Clavering

Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday January 17th 1862


Friday, January 17, 1862


The particulars of a horrid murder, perpetrated by a married woman of the name of Law, residing in the above village, upon her husband and infant child, on Monday last night, will be found in the second page of the Chronicle.

The following evidence was adduced at the inquest before C. C. Lewis, Esq., held at the Fox and Hounds Inn, Clavering, on Thursday afternoon.

William Heard Codlin, of Langley, grocer, deposed: Deceased, Samuel Law, was a labourer; the prisoner was his wife; yesterday morning the 14th inst., about a quarter past eight, from information I had received, I went to his cottage; I opened the door and then heard a child cry; I walked into the room and saw a quantity of blood on the floor and on the kneading trough, coming through the floor of the upstairs room; I went upstairs and found blood on the floor at the top of the stairs; I opened the bed room door and found Samuel Law lying on the floor, partly on his left side; I saw he was dead and covered all over with bloodline he only had on a shirt; I saw a grey many cuts about his head and one under his right eye; I then found the child, Alfred Law, in the same room, in a little bed in the corner of the room; I picked him up and found he was very cold; I saw nothing about him then, and laid him down again; I went down stairs and got a light, then went upstairs again and found a piece of hair which appeared to have been cut off the man's head; I had the child taken p, and carried downstairs and delivered to the parish constable, who came up just at the time; I then went to the house of the father of Law's wife; I found him there; she was standing in his house; when I went in she came up to me, laid hold of my hand and said, "Poor Sam is gone, isn't he?" I made no answer; there were a great many people in the house; she said, "Poor Sam is gone - I did it; I chopped him with the chopper. O dear," she said, "I'm lost for ever." I took her directly off the the police station at Newport; on he way there she repeated the words that she had used before - that she had done it. She said, "Poor Sam is gone," and I told her he was; then she said, "And the dear baby too;" I said, "No, the baby is not dead;" she said "I know it is;" I said, "No, the baby is all right;" then she said, "In the night she took the chopper and hit Sam across the head in his sleep." "He did so," she said, shrugging up her shoulders. "I hit him again," she said, "several times; O dear, how he did struggle," she said, "and all the time I was hitting him there was such a noise on the stairs;" she said, "Then she was in the house for an hour or more;" "I went to him again," she said, "and I asked him if he snowed me; he mad a groan; then," she said, "she hit him again." "She came down stairs," she said, "and blowed the light out and left her house about twelve o'clock by her clock." She said, "Three months before she had seen this murder, and had heard the shrieks and cries and heard knocks about the places, and she knew there was going to be a murder, but she didn't think she was going to do it." "As she was going from her father's cottage to hers," she said, "she had her boy with her, and she looked for a place to drown him; she was afraid someone would hear his cries." I said, "I wonder you had not murdered yourself." She said, "I had made up my mind to do so, and I thought one day out of hell was better than being in;" she repeated again several times the same thing as to how she hit Sam, meaning her husband; I left her at the station in Newport in charge of P.C. Benson; she said her husband had used her very ill, and he had said if she was to die and he to have another wife he would use her better than he had done her.

Emily, wife of William Corby, of Clavering, labourer, stated: Samuel Law was my brother; he was a labourer, and 27 years of age; I last saw him alive last Sunday afternoon with his wife; they were in my mother's; he had come out of gaol on Friday; he had been there a month for breaking a gate; she had been in the union Workhouse during the time he had been in gaol; he fetched her from the workhouse on Sunday morning; I saw them together on Sunday afternoon about three hours; he kept reading to her about the devil tempting Jesus Christ; she said, "so he has me many times;" they appeared then to be happy; at a little before three they left my mother's to go home with their two children; between 12 and one I heard him say to her that the devil had tempted people to cut their throats; "So he has mine," she said, "many times, and so I shall yours or else mine; I'm certain I shall;" lately they had appeared to live happier than before; I had heard her say she wished he was dead, but this was some time ago.

Thomas Melldowney, of Clavering, p.c., deposed: Yesterday morning at half-past 11 it was reported to me that the prisoner had murdered her husband; I went to the cottage; saw blood all about the room where I found him lying; I searched the room, but found nothing there; this morning I searched the house again, and at the foot of the bed I found the chopper I now produce; it was wrapped in a cloth and stained with blood as it is now.

George Strickland Robinson, of Newport, surgeon, stated: I was called to Samuel Law, the deceased, yesterday; I found him lying on the floor, and quite dead, covered with blood all over; I then went to see the child, which I found at the grandmother's; he was in a comatose state; I found bruises about the head which may have been caused by some blunt instrument; I have to-day made a post-mortem examination; I found great effusion between the scalp and the cranium; the cranium itself was broken into several pieces on the upper part; there was effusion between the cranium and the covering of the brain, and the brain was very much congested; these injuries were the cause of death, and were likely to have arisen from blows with some blunt instrument; the heart, lungs, and all the abdominal viscera were healthy; I have also made a post-mortem examination of Samuel Law; I found several incised wounds about the face and head; the scalp separated from the bones of the head; the greater portion of the right parietal bone was detached, exposing the coverings of the brain, and the brain itself in places; these injuries to and about the head were the cause of death, and may have been occasioned by such a chopper as the one which has been produced; there were some old adhesions upon the right lung, but of no importance; the other lung and heart were healthy, and all the other abdominal viscera; I had attended the prisoner for about two months before she went into the union; she had inflammation of the lungs in the first instance, and after that she had an inordinate flow of menses, from which she recovered; I always looked upon her as a woman of rather weak intellect; she never appeared to me to be suicidal or homicidal.

Henry Flood, of Newport, superintendent of police, deposed: Yesterday afternoon, on my return home, I found the prisoner at my station, charged with murdering her husband; she was in a calm state; as soon as I saw her she said she had killed her husband, and she must suffer a fearful doom; she said she chopped him with a bill-hook which they used for chopping wood; this she repeated several times, and again today, without any questions being put to her; she also said she hoped her child was dead, as it would then not suffer as she had suffered; she said her husband had used her worse than a dog.

Sarah, wife of Edward Sell, of Langley, labourer, stated: Samuel Law was my son-in-law; the prisoner is my daughter, and her name is Rebecca; my husband and myself live between two and three miles from the cottage in which they lived; I had not seen him since he came out of gaol; between one and two o'clock yesterday morning she came to my house; she called out "Mother, mother, there's a man cutting Sam all to pieces; a cart came and I got away;" I went downstairs and let her in; I saw some blood on her gown, and a little on her sleeve; I asked her if she had done it, and if she had cut her husband; she said she had done it herself, and begged of me not to go and see him; she kept saying she had done it; I asked her why she came to do it; she said she thought she washing to that bad place, and she would not go alone; that her doom was fixed; they had no victuals to eat, and no firing, no money, and I believe it was all through poverty; when she came to my cottage she had the eldest child with her; she said she was tempted to make away with him, but she did not; she said the baby was dead and she hid it.

Edward Sell, of Langley, husband of last witness, stated: Yesterday morning, between one and two, I heard some one come to my house; the prisoner was the person; my wife went down stairs and let her in; she then went upstairs; I saw some blood on her gown; she said she had killed her husband and cut him all to smash; I dressed myself and went out of the house; I knew she was not quite right before she went into the workhouse - she was as I had never seen her before - she had been starved almost; I thought it was all poverty.

Rhoda, wife of William Law, of Clavering, labourer, said: Samuel Law was my son, the little child was my grandchild; my son an the prisoner had been married about seven years; I last saw him alive on Sunday afternoon, about half-past two to go to their own cottage with their two children; they appeared comfortable then, for what I saw; there used to be words between them at times; they used to quarrel. I had heard her talk about her sins, but she had always appeared to me to be right in her mind; when she went into the workhouse she seemed much oppressed for her sins; the child was brought to my house yesterday, about twelve; he was 14 or 15 weeks old; he seemed very ill, and he died last night at half-past nine.

The above facts having been given in evidence, the coroner summed up, and the jury returned a verdict of "Wilful murder" against Rebecca Law, in both cases.

The inquiry lasted upwards of eight hours.

The prisoner was brought to Chelmsford yesterday afternoon on the coroner's warrant, and was lodged in the county gaol at Springfield.

It is a singular fact that the house to which the murdered in fact was taken was that in which the woman Chesham some years since poisoned her husband.