Thriller Thursday ~ The Coroner’s Inquest

A Coroners Inquest

Previous Installments of this Series:

~ Accident or Murder

~The Vanishing

~Dear John

~The Fate of Rhoda

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.

James Carter

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

Watchfield School where the inquest took place

Watchfield School where the inquest took place

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

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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…
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