Thriller Thursday ~ Dear John

Update yourself with the sorted tale by reading my previous posts regarding John Carter and his crimes:

~ Thriller Thursday ~ First Installment ~ Accident or Murder?

~ Thriller Thursday ~ Second Installment ~ The Vanishing

Other stories related to John Carter: Black Sheep Sunday: My Darkest Black Sheep , A Foundling Found , Travel Tuesday | Walking in Their Footsteps , and Military Monday ~ Lost Great-Uncle Nelson

Rhoda Ann Titcombe.  John Carter's third wife.

Rhoda Ann Titcombe. John Carter’s third wife.

It was 1889 and John Carter once again found himself the single father of now seven children– 6 from his first marriage and a son, John Nelson Carter, from his second.  He continued to spread the tale of his wife’s desertion; Her foray with another man, the so called “chap from Swindon”.  He continued to carouse the local pubs, his love or need for drink sustained. He had moved the family to his home town of Watchfield from Longcot and now frequented the “Eagle Inn”, an establishment owned by Joseph Pocock, the same man who had run John’s favourite Longcot haunt, the “King and Queen”.

The Eagle Inn, Watchfield, Berkshire, England

The Eagle Inn, Watchfield, Berkshire, England

It was in 1893 at the “Eagle Inn” that John Carter announced in a drunken state that he was to marry bar maid Rhoda Ann Titcombe–once again a member of the enterprising Mr. Pocock’s staff. Questioned regarding how he could possibly marry when his previous wife was alive and living in Swindon, John cajoled and offered them five pounds to find his wife “Dead or Alive”.  In April of that year John and Rhoda were wed, John listed as a “widower” on the registry.

It seems the short marriage may have been a bumpy one!  John was quite obviously a jealous man with a hot temper.  Two months after they were wed John was heard at a local feast saying that Rhoda was to dance with no other man.  “Should she want another man I will be the death of her”, a witness had later recalled him saying.  This was to be a foreshadowing of the events to come!

July 20th 1893, late into the night John’s 9 year old son Thomas Carter (my Great-Grandfather), was roused in the night by dreadful noise, “a banging from the next room”, his step-mother’s cry ” Lord have mercy upon us”, and then from the stairs a “knock, knock, knock”, much heavier than anyone’s walking.  The following morning Thomas was told his step-mother had gone to East leach and that he was to go fetch the cows.  John was to be busy in the smithy attached to the cottage all day and Thomas was warned off going near the forge and the wash house.

The friendly walk John and Rhoda took the day of July 20th was the last neighbours saw Rhoda alive and well.  And when Rhoda’s mother came in search of her the next day, John informed her that her daughter had gone to her confined sister in Eastleach.  Her mother left filled with suspicions and doubt!

Thomas, my great-grandpa age 8 or 9

Thomas, my great-grandpa age 8 or 9

Later that day, John sent his son Thomas on another errand.  He wanted a quarter hundredweight of coal and had sent Thomas to a local farmer and dealer to fetch it.  Soon after, a thick and noxious smoke coming from the Carter wash house disturbed a curious neighbour, Ann Butler, from across the lane.  Over she wandered, it was a hot evening and there seemed no reasonable explanation for the billowing smoke of a substantial fire.  Pushing open the door, Ann Butler, peered in to see a large tub surrounded by kindling and coal, but she was suddenly pushed out of the wash house by John, He abruptly slammed and latched the door behind them.  |i’m burning rubbish.” he explained but Mrs. Butler was hardly convinced.

Suspicions swirling, a small village soon embroiled in rumour and concerned chatter, neighbours and family were hyper vigilant.  Rhoda’s brother, David, aware of his mother’s worry and alerted by the wafting smoke came running to the house from a nearby cricket field and burnt his hand trying to enter the wash-house.  Eventually John opened the door for him so he could see what looked like a large tub boiling over with water.  John’s unfathomable response to David’s questioning, “I am boiling water to shave with.”

John maintained that Rhoda had run off to her sister’s in East Leach when he was bombarded questioning relations and two days later the local police constable Charles Sparkes was informed that Rhoda Titcombe had gone missing, her husband suspected. Cst. Sparkes set out to investigate this mysterious disappearance.

Another disappearance, another wife run off!  Was John Carter a rough, but pathetic “Dear John” always being deserted because of his hot headed disposition? Or was something more sinister afoot?  Certainly most of Watchfield believed something was most definitely amiss!

Questions stack one a top another as fieldstones on a wall the truth not yet laid bare, revelation still hovers in a fog of disconnected facts…
post signature

Advertisements

Thriller Thursday ~ First Installment ~ Accident or Murder?

The Mugshot of John Carter

The Mugshot of John Carter

I have written about my 2nd Great-Grandfather, John Carter, and his crimes in previous posts but I thought perhaps a regular Thriller Thursday series detailing the case of his murderous deeds and my research might be most comprehensive and hopefully provide a suspenseful intrigue to tantalize the curious minds of readers! This is the first installment though I have written previously:

Black Sheep Sunday ~ My Darkest Black Sheep Revealed

Thriller Thursday ~ Murder in The Family

Now, shall I begin at the beginning of the story or at the beginning of my research?  Two very different commencement points! Perhaps it makes the most sense on a genealogy blog to focus on research.  If you remember from my Darkest Black Sheep article I discovered through a passenger list that my Great Grandfather, Thomas Carter, had been a British Home Child sent to Canada with a Fegan’s Home emigration party in 1898.  I was determined to trace Thomas’ family in England.  It was early days in my online genealogy career and I struggled especially with a name so common as Carter.  Luckily, I was able to narrow down the British hometown as it had been indicated in Thomas’ WWI file.  But it wasn’t until I started correspondence with a woman named Marjorie Kohli, the author of “The Golden Bridge: Young Immigrants to Canada 1833-1939”, that I was presented with the pieces I needed to finish the frame of this puzzle.

Marj found a family in the England Census, a possible match: John and Elizabeth Carter living Worton Hamlet, Cassington, Oxfordshire. John is an Agricultural labourer born in Watchfield, Berkshire and Elizabeth in Loncot, Berkshire. The children are Annie 1872; Clara 1873; Martha 1879. In the 1891 census they are in Maidenhead, Berkshire and the family now contains Thomas 1882; William 1885 and Nelson 1888.

It seemed a bit of a long shot but I decided to explore this family further.  A thorough google search which was a ridiculous needle and a haystack sort of venture remarkable produced “the needle”.  An obscure mention of a John Carter, Victorian murderer from Watchfield made my heart raise to my throat but I knew this is impossible!  No one finds their run of the mill farm labouring Great-Grandfather is a wife killer!  I set out to learn more about this particular John Carter and quickly disprove this outrageous lead.

Fortunate or unfortunate–depending on your frame of mind I suppose–each new piece to this research puzzle only proved the validity of my find!  A full picture began to develop as I scoured newspaper articles online, British Newspaper Archives was a fabulous source of information.  I collected every name in these articles, the police involved, the witnesses,and  the coroner’s name.  It was this meticulous searching and the mystery of three dead wives which led me to the coroner’s reports housed at the Berkshire Records Office.  Mr. Llewellyn Jotcham, the local coroner first met my 2nd Great-Grandfather in the year 1887 when his first wife–my biological 2nd Great-Grandmother, Elizabeth Thatcher–died from a fall down the stairs.  She was “in the family way and was expecting her confinement any day…She had been in a weak state of health…” according to her husband, John Carter in his statement during the inquest.  John had left for work and that was the last time he saw her alive.

stairs

Her daughter Annie also testified during the inquest describing her mother’s fainting spell and her fall down the stairs to the stone floor below.

I went to her and found she was fainting–she said oh dear–I tried to assist her–to hold her up–she had her hands on the stairs about her–all at once she fell backwards on me and we both fell together to the bottom of the stairs–she fell on the back of her head and on the stones of the room–she did not say anything but only moved her head one time–she did not appear to be sensible–I ran for Mrs. Giffon a neighbour who was working in the hay field–she came with me.

When we got back we found that she had been placed straight on the stones.  Mrs Inmans who lives next door was there and I suppose she did it–My mother was dead..

Mr. Jotcham concluded this was an accidental death and to my relief, after reading the reports I truly believe it was….this time!

But my 2nd Great-Grandfather was to meet with Mr. Jotcham again years later with a very different outcome!

Tune in next Thriller Thursday for a new installment…most thrilling of all!
post signature

Tombstone Tuesday ~ Just Because it is Written in Stone…

My Great-Grandparents' Headstone

My Great-Grandparents’ Headstone

It is hardly an elaborate, beautiful, or notable tombstone but tonight’s post is not meant to feature some lavish stone with intricate markings or ornate carving.  It is rather a cautionary tale in assuming that everything written in stone is true!  This headstone is a prime example of how inaccurate tombstone’s can be!

Newspaper article with the account of Thomas Carter's death. Woodstock Sentinel Review, May 1943.

Newspaper article with the account of Thomas Carter’s death. Woodstock Sentinel Review, May 1943.

My Great-Grandfather’s name was Thomas with a “Th”.  Though he had lied about his year of birth on occasion, including on his WWI attestation papers, he was more accurately born in 1885 in England. What is most remarkable however is the absolute incorrectness of his death year.  My Great Grandfather, Thomas Carter, died not in 1945 but rather 1943.  Not only had my grandmother recorded his death year as 1943 but his death was actually recorded in a local newspaper article in May of 1943.  His death had made the news because he had passed away at work.

Humorously, it is likely my Great-Grandmother, Margaret Sloan, was born in 1888 rather than 1889. Most documents indicate 1888 as her birth year though I suppose I have yet to find her birth record so I cannot be sure.

Though inaccuracy in a birth date on a gravestone is understandable it is very difficult to comprehend how someone can be confused as to the year of a person’s death while carving a tombstone unless perhaps it was not carved until years later.  It is possible my Great-Grandmother could not afford a stone or its carving initially and it was done years after the death of my Great-Grandfather.

Regardless, it is important to note that while tombstones are a great starting point for information but should never be relied upon as the final word on the vital events of an individual!
post signature

Black Sheep Sunday: My Darkest Black Sheep Revealed!

Thomas in Fegan Party

Thomas Carter–Home Child

If you recall yesterday I wrote of my Great-Grandfather, Thomas Carter, and the research which led to the discovery that he had been a British Home Child.  Benevolent and religious organizations sent over 100 000 British children to Canada between 1869 and 1930–though the movement began even earlier in the 1830s and did not end until 1939.  The reasons were often less than altruistic however!  Britain felt over-taxed by impoverished, less than desirable individuals and there was money to be saved and even to be made by shipping children off to be indentured to farmers in the British Commonwealth.

Children like my Great-Grandfather were sent in groups to a new, foreign land equipped with the promise of a new and better life and a trunk containing: 2 cloth suits, 2 sets of undergarments, 3 caps, 2 pair of boots, 3 pair of socks, 3 handkerchiefs, a jersey, and an overcoat.  Many were orphans but many were not, and some were sent without even the consent of their parents. I wanted to know the circumstances behind Thomas’ emigration!  It was the pursuit of this information which led me to this, my most morbid but thrilling revelation….My Darkest Black Sheep!

“A horrible murder has just been discovered at Watchfield village, in West Berks, near Swindon.  A cowman’s wife, named Rhoda Carter, had been missed for several days, and inquiries failed to show her whereabouts. Her husband’s cottage was searched, but without result.  Communications made to the police by the man’s brother, however, led to a second search being made, when the woman’s body was found buried in a corner of an old washhouse.  The Head and knees had been squeezed together, and the body was pressed into a hole two feet square.  The limbs appeared as if scorched, and persons had noticed a large fire in Carter’s cottage on the night of the woman’s disappearance.  Carter was arrested, and last night a coronor’s jury returned a verdict of “Willful murder” against him…” an excerpt from The London Times

The crime pictured at the top of this Police Illustrated News cover 5 Aug 1893

The crime pictured at the top of this Police Illustrated News cover 5 Aug 1893

One horrific newspaper article after another revealed that Thomas’ father, my 2nd Great Grandfather, John Carter, had murdered his third wife Rhoda Titcombe.  At first glance I was in denial!  Oops, I must have climbed someone else’s more sinister and albeit more thrilling family tree!  As my research progressed I soon realized with heart pumping clarity that indeed my family of dull British farm labourers had now become a family embroiled in the unspeakable–murder!

Murder Victim--Rhoda Ann Titcombe

Murder Victim–Rhoda Ann Titcombe

I had followed the family through the English census records.  John had been married three times.  His first wife, my biological 2nd Great-Grandmother, Elizabeth Thatcher had died from a fall down stone steps in their cottage.  There had been a coroner’s inquiry and it had been deemed accidental. She had been pregnant and unwell and had lost her balance or had a fainting spell.  Her daughter and a neighbour had been present but John–her husband–had been out working so my fear that he had also killed her was quickly dispelled. His second wife however, Elizabeth Alder– with whom he had another son John Nelson–had mysteriously disappeared.  She was thought to have left him for another man….but had she?

What to do next?  How to follow this historic trail of serial marriage and possibly serial murder?  The lucky aspect, if you can call it lucky, of finding someone infamous in your family tree is the knowledge that further records must exist!  News worthy as John Carter’s story was, knowing the date of the crime allowed me to search the newspapers on The British Newspaper Archive –I purchased a short term subscription.  Article after article helped me to piece together the appalling and pertinent details of the crime, the coroner’s inquest, and the trial.  I collected the names of the police investigators, the witnesses (including my great-grandpa,Thomas), the coroner, and the locations involved.  This was crucial in leading me to the records I would need! I googled all the names.  Which helped with background information.

I discovered John had been placed in Reading Gaol through newspaper reports. The trail led me to the Berkshire Records Office who most excitedly housed the records of the coroner of Berkshire, Mr. Jotcham.  The staff of the Berkshire Records Office were phenomenal and provided me with copies of the coroner’s reports for all three of John’s wives. But just as exciting, I happened across an article about the history of mugshots in England and discovered that Reading Gaol prisoners had mugshots taken during the 1890s when my 2nd Great-Grandfather had been arrested.  These were also housed at the BRO and my luck persisted as a long lost cousin was able to unearth a mugshot of John Carter on a visit to the BRO.  I now had a photo of my family’s Black Sheep!  Admittedly looking into his eyes brought up a wealth of tumultuous emotions!

The Mugshot of John Carter

The Mugshot of John Carter

The verdict of the the coroner’s inquest was that Rhoda had been strangled by her husband. John Carter, her body after death partially burned in an attempt to hide the evidence.  John Carter was found guilty of willful and malicious murder and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until he be dead.  John was hanged by the British Chief executioner James Billington on 3 Dec 1893 at Reading Gaol. Prior to his execution he opened an entirely new can-of-worms by confessing to the murder of his disappeared second wife Elizabeth Alder.

But what of the children, in particular my Great-Grandfather Thomas? 

Thomas Carter had the most daunting task for a young boy. At the age of 7 or 8 Thomas testified in the trial against his father:

“Thomas Carter, the prisoner’s son, said that when in bed on the Thursday night he heard something go “knock, knock, knock” on the floor of his father’s bed room. The noise lasted 20 minutes.  He heard his stepmother call out, “Lord have mercy on us.” He then heard another knocking noise on the stairs and all down the stairs.  It was a heavier sound than any one would make walking down the stairs.  The next morning his father told him not to go in the washhouse.  When he came home to tea, however, the prisoner sent him for some coal, and then lighted the fire in the washhouse. On Friday he did not see his stepmother, and his father told him she had gone to see her sister, and to say she was not at home if anyone inquired after her…” another excerpt from the London Times

Thomas, my great-grandpa, Testifies in Court at the age of 8.

Thomas, my great-grandpa, Testifies in Court at the age of 8.

I know now that after this trial Thomas was sent to the Farringdon workhouse as was his younger brother William.  Two years later their married older sister would rescue them from the workhouse and register them with Fegan’s Home for Boys.  According to Fegan records, an account by a local historian named Digsby, and passenger lists the boys were then sent to Canada as indentured servants, “Home Children” to start a new life abroad.  Thomas’ half-brother, the son of John Carter and his second wife Elizabeth Alder, John Nelson Carter, followed in another Fegan Home emigration party of 1900.

I am not entirely satisfied that I have milked the research to its exhaustion.  I would like to request further Reading Gaol files from the National British Archives.  I also wish to pursue the fates of William and John Nelson further, and flesh out their stories.  I am most eager to understand the motives and personality of John Carter, however genealogical research can only provide a framework which human imagination and emotional knowledge often must fill!
post signature