Previous Installments of this Series:
The suspect, John Carter, arrested–housed at Faringdon Gaol– and the body found, a coroner’s Inquest was held in the Schoolhouse at Watchfield. In Constable Charles Sparkes’ own words the horror of the scene unfolds:
I got an iron bar and with it I probed the floor of an outbuilding adjoining the house of the husband used as a stable–it was covered with litter. I tested it all over until I came to one corner where there was a large wheelbarrow stood on its end and propped up against the wall in a corner. I moved the wheelbarrow and found a tub which I also removed. I then grubbed the floor and at about the third time I put the bar down I found I was on something. As I pulled the bar out I smelt a deathly smell. I at once called to Sgt. Benning who was in an adjoining shed and he brought a four grained fork with him but the earth was shallow and I knelt down and pulled the earth off with my hands. I then found the body of the deceased with only a chemise on her body, there were only about three inches of earth covering the body. Sgt. Benning and I then took the body out of the hole and placed i where the jury have seen it. This morning I examined the hole and found it to be about two feet square and about 18 inches deep. The body of the deceased was doubled up when we found it and being a small person it took up very little room. I searched the house but saw no traces of blood and there were no marks of a struggle having taken place. When I found the body it presented the same appearance as it does now, except that it has become more discoloured. I saw a black mark round the throttle of the neck of the deceased about four or five inches in length and about three quarters of an inch wide, it appeared to be larger on the left side of the neck than on the right…
From the Coroner’s Report
John’s brother James testifies at the inquest explaining that the had met John in a field as he was returning from a milk run to Shrivenham Station. John had confessed to his brother that he “did kill his wife”. He claimed she had died directly after he had hit her and knocked her down. He then proceeded to drag her into the blacksmith shop to be buried. He had requested that James return to Watchfield to determine what the gossip might be about his wife Rhoda. James had instead gone to the police.
The testimony of several neighbours recounted the events of the days surrounding Rhoda’s murder but it was the testimony of Faringdon surgeon Coniston Spackman, ordered by the coroner to make a superficial examination of the body, which detailed the truly heinous violence Rhoda had endured and her corpse had been submitted to:
I found the whole of the body was very much discoloured particularly the head and face and the right side of the body–the hair of the head was very nearly off–it was hanging loose, the features were so much discoloured and swollen that they were almost beyond recognition. On examining the throat I found three distinct marks, one on the right corresponding to the impression of a thumb and two on the left corresponding to the impression of two fingers. I also found the thyroid cartilage discoloured, it was quite moveable,there was no fracture of the skull but the nose was broken. The appearance of the head and face would lead to the supposition that it had been beaten severely or trodden upon. I should say after death. I found the skin of the whole body was easily removeable–that I attribute to decomposition but it might have been by scorching and there was a distinct smell as though the body had been scorched. From all the appearances of the body, I am of the opinion that death was caused by strangulation. The hair of the deceased smelt of fire. I cannot give any opinion as to the time which has elapsed since the death but I should say about a week…
From The Coroner’s Report
The inquest results were clear and there was little question John Carter would be stand trial for the murder of his third wife Rhoda Ann!
…that the cause of her death was that she was strangled and killed by her husband John Carter on or about the twenty first of July in the year aforesaid at Watchfield aforesaid and so do further say that he said John Carter did feloniously, wilfully and of malice aforethought murder the said Rhoda Ann Carter