WARNING - Article contains graphic content that some may find distressing

The Killing of a Witch at Sible Hedingham

Supplement to the Essex Standard - Wednesday March 16th 1864

Wednesday, March 16, 1864

The Sible Hedingham Witchcraft Case.


CROWN COURT - Tuesday, March 7.

Emma Smith, 35, on bail, and James stammers, on bail, were indicted for assaulting and beating a certain person known by the name  of Dummy, whereby the said Person died on the 4th Sept., at Sible Hedingham, on the 3rd August, 1863.

Mr. PEARCE and Mr. MARTIN appeared for the prosecution; Mr. CODD defended Smith and Mr. PHILBRICK appeared for stammers.

Mr PEARCE detailed the facts of the case to the jury, and called John Pettit, who said - I am a shoemaker at Sible Hedingham. I knew the deceased Dummy, who lived in a mud hut in that parish. His hut was about a quarter- of-a mile from the swan Inn. He was supposed to be deaf and dumb and about 80 years of age. I recollect the night of the 3rd of August. I saw him at the Swan Inn about ten o'clock. He was in the tap-room with a number of other persons, including the prisoners at the bar. Dummy appeared to be in his usual state of health. I heard the female speak about Dummy and say he had bewitched her, and where he was she would be. She also said she would give him three sovereigns and keep him if he would go to Risbridge with her. She said he had bewitched her, and it had produced such a bad effect upon her bodily system, that she could not wear any clothes. Dummy made signs as if to say he would have his throat cut before he would go with her. He appeared to understand what the woman said to him.

There was a man named Gibson present, and he and Dummy were jumping about together, apparently to amuse the women. Gibson told the woman if she stood on a pot of beer she would soon be all right. Dummy went close to the female prisoner, and the last thing I saw of him is that he sat on a man's lap and kissed him.

I saw Dummy after he left the public-house. He was sitting on the ground, the female prisoner standing by his side, making signs for him to go home with her. I think he got up and went off with another man. He came back again the female prisoner being with him, and she pulled him towards the brook, and at the same time, about 40 or 50 other persons being there, she pulled him into the brook, where Dummy was trying to get out, and push him back. This was repeated a second time. Eventually Dummy got out and went and sat on a heap of stones. The female prisoner was with him then, and got hold of his stick and beat him across his head, shoulders and arms.

I went up to her and told her not to hurt him, and she said she would not hurt a hair upon his head. She then began to kick him, and I told her not to do so. She seems to be in a very strange way. The prisoner Stammers was present when this occurred, and went over to the opposite side of the brook when Dummy was in the water. Dummy remained on the stone heap some minutes, and then went to the Water Mill Lane.

I don't know whether he walked alone or whether he was dragged. I followed at a distance, and I heard a female say "Let's duck him in the mill head." and directly afterwards I heard a splash in the water, and I went to the side and found the old man in the water.

Some persons called out he would be drowned, and Stammers caught hold of him, and he was taken out and laid on the grass. The female prisoner washer, and I asked who had done it, and she replied, "A drunken man has fallen into the ditch." It was a moonlit night, and the brook is "topped up." There was about a foot and a half of water. The old man, who appeared to be trying to clear his throat, remained on the grass some minutes, his clothes being very wet. I saw the old man back to the Swan; he walked some of the way, and the remainder he was assisted along. I afterwards assisted him home, when he opened the door and let himself in. I made signs for him to take his wet things off, and he made signs as id he was all right, and I then left him.

By Mr. CODD. There were a number of women and children present; I was there nearly all the time; I was beside the second brook when the old man was pushed in; I could not see who pushed him in; I saw a girl named Garrad kick the old man near the Swan Inn; I told her to keep quiet: I had no knowledge of the female prisoner before that night; I recollect the old man falling down in the Lion; but I don't think Gibson fell upon him.

By Mr. PHILBRICK. I have known Stammers all his life time: I never knew anything against him; I saw Stammers cross the brook while Dummy was in the water; the first thing I saw after I heard the splash in the water was the old man being taken out by Stammers and a woman.

Eva Garrad said - l live with my mother at Sible Hedingham, a short distance from the Swan public-house, and on the night of the 3rd August I went into the bar there alone for half a pint of beer for my mother. When there I saw a lot of people coming into the tap-room. I knew Dummy, who was also there, and I saw Gibson take the old man round the waist and dance him about, and they fell down; Gibson then set him up in one corner of the room and made him drink some beer. They danced about again, and Gibson fell on to the old man. I saw the prisoners in the tap-room. I then went home with my mother, and, hearing a noise, I ran down again and saw Dummy coming out of the Swan, the female prisoner having hold of his shoulders. Dummy had a stick in his hand, and sat down by the window. She asked him if he would go home with her, and he made some signs to her; she said she would give him three sovereigns if he would go home with her. The stick was lying close by the side of the old man, and the female prisoner took his hat off and took two books out of it. She tore one of the books up and threw it into the brook, saying, "That is what he has done me by."

Dummy put his stick on the window sill, and I saw it afterwards in the female prisoner's hands. I saw her draw it twice across his head, and several times across his shoulders and arms. At the time she did this she said "You old devil, you have served me out, and I will serve you out."

I next saw her roll him down by the side of the brook and shove him in. She then went round to the other side, and when the old man was getting out Stammers shoved him back; Stammers went through the brook, and the female prisoner ran round. I did not hear him say anything when he pushed the old man back into the brook. Dummy tried to get out of the brook, and eventually he did so, and sat down on the stone heap. When he got there I saw Stammers take him round his waist and carry him into the road, the female prisoner walking behind. Then she took hold of his shoulders and two other women, and they carried him a short distance and then dragged him down the road to the water known as the "sluice."

When they got him there I saw the two prisoners throw him into the middle of the water. I was about a yard off the water at the time. The witness Pettitt was there. While Dummy was in the water I saw him lift up his arms and splash in the water. I heard some one say " If some one don't take that poor man out of the water directly he will be dead." After that was said Stammers ran into the water and caught hold of the old man and laid him on the bank. While he was on the grass I heard him try to get the nasty stuff out of his throat; his clothes were all wet, and the water was dripping off him as he laid on the grass. His clothes were torn. I knew where Dummy lived. Stammers took the old man as far as the Swan and left him. I heard the neighbours throw up their windows, and the female prisoner ran away, saying "Tell them some drunken man has fallen into the water." The old man then got as far as George Ames's door and knocked, and two women led him towards his hut. That is the last I saw of him.

By Mr. CODD. There was a number of people there; I don't recollect kicking the old man; Pettitt did not tell me not to kick him; I mentioned about the two books at the inquest and before the magistrates; I saw the prisoner throw him into the water.

By Mr. PHILBRICK. I saw Pettitt there when the old man was taken out of the water, but I don't know whether he was looking; Helen Brown and Harriett Parmenter were present, I was about a yard off; Stammers fetched him out in about two minutes.

George Jenkinson, hairdresser, of Sible Hedingham, said - l knew old Dummy and was at the Swan Inn on the evening in question. The prisoners and the old man were there, and Gibson and the old man were dancing about. I heard the female prisoner say Dummy had bewitched her. When they got outside I saw Dummy give Stammers his hat, but the female prisoner took it and threw it towards the brook. I had heard her say she would give him money if he would go home with her, and she believed it would take the spell away from her. He would not go with her. I saw him trying to get out of the brook near the Swan, and the female prisoner prevented him by pushing him back. Stammers was there walking about among the other people. The female prisoner appeared to be suffering from some mental disease and talked very strangely. When the eld man was in the sluice I said "if some one don't get him out he will be dead in a minute or two." After he was got out the female prisoner struck him with a stick and he laughed, apparently defiantly.

By Mr. CODD. I did not see how he got into the sluice; I did not see Pettitt there just at that time; I heard the female prisoner ask Dummy to go home with her; I had known the female prisoner a little while before, and she appeared to be in a very delicate state of health ; she had been to see Dummy on several previous occasions.

By Mr. PHILBRICK. I did not see Dummy lying down in the first brook ; I saw Stammers take the old man out of the second brook; he was immersed about half a minute; I did not see Stammers do anything to the old man except take him out; I have known Stammers a long while, and I believe he has always borne a good character.

Re-examined. I have known Dummy for ten years, and he was in his usual state of health on the evening in question; he did not appear any the worse for the falls he had in the tap-room of the Swan.

George Ames, butcher, of Sible Hedingham, said - On the night of the 3rd of August I saw the old man outside the Swan. He went away with a man named Hickford, but afterwards came to my door with with two females. He was covered with slud and water, and I and Mr. Pettitt took him home.

By Mr. CODD. I saw the old man the following morning; he had his wet clothes on, and appeared to have slept in them all night; he got up and walked up the yard; he made a sign as if he had got a pain in his shoulder; I don't know whether it was a rheumatic pain. (Laughter.)

By Mr. PHILBRICK. I did not see either of the prisoners interfere with the old man.

Mr. Wm. V. Fowke said - l live at Sible Hedingham, and have known Dummy for 6 or 7 years. I had assisted him occasionally. I went to his hut on the morning of the 4th of August; he was lying on his face, his clothes were saturated with wet, and his head was covered with mud. I helped to undress him, and when we took off his shirt he screamed, and I saw some bruises. He also indicated by signs that he had been thrown into the water. I stayed with him about an hour and saw him made comfortable, and left some money with a man to procure him what necessaries he might require. I saw him again in the evening, when he was still in bed, but quite recovered from his coldness. The following day I advised his removal to the Union-house, and I spoke to a policeman about the matter. I also engaged a surgeon.

By Mr. CODD. I did not know the 3tate of Dummy's health previously; he had an attack of bronchitis about a year and a half before.

By Mr. PHILBRICK. I took Mr. Thorpe, the surgeon, to see the old man; Mr. Thorpe did not pass any opinion as to the old man's state of health.

Edward Hickford, a labourer, said - On the night of the 3rd of August I was at the Swan at Sible Hedingham. Upon the house being cleared I saw the prisoners and Dummy there. I took him down the lane, when the female prisoner asked him to go home with her, and hit him with a stick. I also saw Stammers shove the old man back when he was in the brook.

By Mr. CODD. I had been in the Swan about three hours that night; I saw Gibson dancing the old man about; I believe that caused the old man's death more than putting him in the water - (laughter) - Dummy drank about eight or nine pints of beer while I was there, and he would have stopped there till now if anybody would have let him. (Laughter.)

His LORDSHIP. Did the witness say nine pennyworth of beer? Witness. You can't get penny pints of beer. (Laughter.)

Mr. CODD. Didn't the old man fall down two or three times?

Witness. Why, yes, certainly. (Laughter )

Mr. CODD. And where was Gibson then? Witness. Why there, of course; I've told you that 3 or 4 times. (Renewed laughter) Mrs. Smith was also there, and Gibson made her drink with the old gentleman. You understand me, Sir? I am the truth, you know, and no mistake about it. (Renewed laughter.)

[The witness, who, as the learned Judge jocularly remarked in the summing up, had apparently been anticipating the repeal of the Malt-Tax, created much laughter in Court by the manner in which he answered the questions put to him.]

Francis Wiseman, greengrocer, of Sible Hedingham, said he had known Dummy a long while, and he was a sulky man if he was put out. He took him from his hut to the Union-house, and as they were going along he called out, as he was very sore, and the jolting of the cart hurt him.

By Mr. PHILBRICK. He did not fall out of the cart.

Mr. D. Sinclair, surgeon, of Halstead, said - l remember seeing Dummy on the 6th August at Halstead. I examined him, and found several bruises on the shoulders, when he pointed to his side, indicating suffering. He was suffering from fever, but his breath was rather suppressed. I saw him again on the 7th, and he was in much the same state. I continued to attend him for several days, when he suffered from more difficult breathing and a considerable amount of fever. I examined his chest, and found extreme congestion of the lungs. I attended him till the time of his death. I made a post mortem examination of the body, and found the lungs totally disorganised. The kidneys were in the same condition. I should say it was the result of congestion and inflammation. I examined the head, and observed some indications of recent inflammatory action. The appearance of the lungs and kidneys was what I should expect from immersion in water, and lying all night in the cold.

By Mr. CODD. Had never seen Dummy before; I believe the man died more from kidney disease than lung disease; I should not think the kidney disease was of longer standing than two or three weeks; I think his sleeping in his wet clothes would tend to bring on an attack of bronchitis.

By Mr. PHILBRICK. I believe disease of the kidneys came on subsequent to the immersion; he did not die of any specific fever; there were no direct traces of personal injury when the post mortem examination was made; there was an affection of the heart of old standing.

By Mr. PEARCE. It was impossible for him to have lived long with his kidneys in such a disordered state.

Mr. A. Meggett, assistant to the last witness, gave similar evidence.

Mr. PEARCE. Mr. Thorpe is also here, but I don't purpose calling him; it is the same thing over and over again.

Mr. PHILBRICK. One of the witnesses spoke to two girls named Brown and Parmenter being present while the man was in the water. These names are on the back of the bill, and I should like them to be called.

Mr. PEARCE. Certainly. We have taken the nocessary steps to have them here.

Ellen Parmenter, examined by Mr, PHILBRICK. I was close by when Dummy was in the mill-head; I did not see him put in or taken out; I saw Stammers near the Swan just before Dummy was put into the water; I cannot say whether Stammers put him in or not.

Ellen Brown, examined by Mr. PHILBRICK. I did not see anything done against the mill-head; I saw Stammers in the water taking the old man out, but did not see him put in; I heard a splash, and about a minute or two after I saw Stammers getting him out.

By Mr. PEARCE. I did not see the girl Garrad there. This was the case for the prosecution.

Mr. CODD addressed the Jury on behalf of the female prisoner, urging that unless they were satisfied the death of the deceased was accelerated by the acts of the parties they could not find a verdict adverse to his client. He also suggested that the deceased sleeping in wet clothes was more likely to have caused his death.

His LORDSHIP reminded Mr. Codd that if the prisoners had used violence, and the old man went unskilfully to work to get well, the prisoners were still responsible.

Mr. CODD bowed to the decision of his Lordship, but at any rate, whatever strange or inhuman conduct might have been used, the Jury had to be satisfied that the old man's death had been accelerated by those acts.

Mr. PHILBRICK, on behalf of Stammers, adopted the same line of defence, dwelling especially on the fact that the only real witness against him was the girl Garrad, who had been contradicted in one point by the evidence of Pettitt, who swore that he saw her kick deceased, and also by the statement of the two girls who she said were present, but who had denied her testimony in that particular. He earnestly urged them to bring a calm and dispassionate judgment to bear upon the evidence, and the evidence alone, and not to allow their judgment to be warped or their minds to be prejudiced by anything they had heard or read of this unhappy case prior to the prisoners being placed in that dock to-day.

His LORDSHIP, in summing up, said the principal evidence against the prisoners was the girl Garrad; and, although in the first instance he regarded her evidence with a considerable amount of doubt, yet he must say, after hearing that evidence given to-day, his opinion had been changed. It was quite clear that the girl possessed intellectual powers of a very high order. Never were ideas better conceived, nor clearer language used to express them, and he saw nothing that could induce him to distrust her in any way. She must be very bad indeed if she could imagine such a story against a fellow creature, and come into that Court to tell it. He had been disposed to regard her evidence with the most scrupulous doubt, because no one had come forward to support it; but after the way in which she gave her evidence he saw no reason to doubt her story.

After a few minutes' consultation the Jury found both prisoners guilty.

His LORDSHIP in passing sentence said - Prisoners at the bar, you have been convicted of this felony. You used violence which caused the death of a fellow creature, helpless in his old age, helpless in his infirmity, and upon the evidence nobody can doubt that that violence hastened his end. I don't make these observations with the view of aggravating your present position The motives which led you to act as you did may have been conceived in ignorance, and in some parts may yet be shared in by others; but although there is no punishment for ignorance, I am bound to pass such a sentence as may show to others that where these superstitious prejudices are entertained they must not be carried out to such an extent as to endanger the lives of their fellow creatures. I take into consideration the state of health of the woman, and also the fact that you, Stammers, endeavoured to get him out the moment your attention was drawn to his danger; but l am bound to pass a sentence which I hope will act as an example, which is, that you severally be imprisoned with hard labour for six calendar months.

The prisoners were then removed, Mrs. Smith being in an almost fainting state.

The Court then adjourned.