Saturday, September 17, 2011

“A Complete System of Child Murder”: Charlotte Winsor, English Serial Killer - 1865


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): At Exeter assizes, on Friday, occurred a case which has revealed nothing less than a complete system of child murder. Mary Jane Harris, aged 23, and Charlotte Winsor, aged 45, were placed at the bar on a charge of having murdered Thomas Edward Gibson Harris, infant child of the first prisoner, on the 14th February, at Torquay:—

The body was found on a public road in the neighbourhood of Torquay, wrapped in a newspaper sewn up with worsted. It might have been dead some days, for the weather had been extremely cold, and its appearance was compatible with its death having been caused either by exposure to the weather or by suffocation. It appeared to be about four months old, and by comparing this date with the Register of Births, the police were led to suspect that it was the illegitimate child of the servant-girl Harris, which had been placed with Winsor, who, with her husband and a little grand-daughter eight years old, lived in a retired cottage in the neighbourhood of Torquay.

The prisoners were tried on this charge at the last assizes before Mr. Baron Channell, when the jury were locked up for several hours, but as they declared there was no chance of their agreeing the learned Baron discharged them. This time it was resolved that the prisoner Harris should be admitted Queen’s evidence. Her story, which was of the most extraordinary character, was as follows :—

In February last I was a servant at Mrs. Wansey’s, living at Tamar Villas, Torquay. Before I went there I had been confined of a male child. I took the child to Mrs. Winsor’s, near Shiphay Bridge, I had known her first some time in September at Marychurch. I made an arrangement with her to take care of the child. As I was going to Mrs. Winsor’s with the child we had some conversation. I said, “ There has been one child picked up in the country.” She said she had put away one of a girl who was confined at her house. The girl had promised to give her ₤3, but did not. I asked her how she did it. She said she put her finger on the jugular vein. She also said she had stifled one three weeks old for Elizabeth Sharland, and thrown it into Torbay, and when it was picked up it was nearly washed all to pieces. She said she had put away one for her sister Perry; that her sister said she would give her ₤4, and that her sister was staying at her house, and sent a letter, directed to be left at the “ Jolly Sailor,” to the father of her child, and by return of post her sister received a letter with a ₤6 note enclosed. Her sister had only given her ₤2, but said that when her husband returned from sea she would make her a handsome present. She said her sister did not do it, and had scarcely spoken to her since. That was all said on the way to the house. We had tea at her house. I asked her if she was not afraid. She said, “ No; hell with you, it’s doing good;” and that she would help any one that would never split upon her. I stayed with her half an hour, and as I was coming away she said, “ I will do whatever lays in my power for your child.” I said, “ All right,” and went away.

On a subsequent visit, according to the girl, the offer to kill the child for ₤5 was renewed:—

She asked me then if she should do it. I asked how she could do it. She said, “ Put it between the bedticks.” I don’t remember she said any more; but she took the child into the girl Pratt’s bedroom. I did not then go in, nor could I see what she did. She stayed there ten minutes, and then came back into the room without the baby. She said would I look in, and that it soon died. I looked in and saw the bed made up, but no child. During the time she was in the room the child did not cry. I saw the child’s body afterwards.

Nothing transpired, in cross-examination, to discredit this dreadful recital, which was, in fact, corroborated in some minor particulars.

The reporters state that—

Winsor, who has a very forbidding countenance, took the proceedings at the late assizes very coolly, whilst Harris was much affected. On Friday, when placed in the dock, Winsor seemed equally unconcerned until the statement was made that her fellow-prisoner would be admitted as Queen’s evidence. Then she began to look rather anxious, and her nervousness increased until Mr. Carter, in his opening remarks, stated to the court the nature of Harris’s confession of the way in which the poor infant was murdered. Then, directly the learned counsel mentioned that the infant had been smothered under a bed, Winsor burst into a violent paroxysm of tears, from which she did not recover for between two and three hours; afterwards, however, seeming tolerably composed. Harris gave her evidence in a straightforward and seemingly penitent manner, to all appearance with a desire to tell the whole truth and not to exculpate herself at the expense of Winsor.

For the defence it was contended that Harris, as an accomplice uncorroborated in chief particulars, could not be relied upon. In summing up Mr. Justice Keating said seldom had ears heard more hideous revelations. The jury retired, and after an hour and a half’s absence found the prisoner Winsor Guilty. His lordship then passed sentence of death upon the prisoner, cautioning her not to hope for any mercy. The prisoner cried convulsively during the passing of the sentence.

[“Law and Police,” The Guardian (London, England), Aug. 2, 1865, p. 786 (page 6 of this issue)]


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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): The Home Secretary has decided that the life of Charlotte Winsor shall be spared. The sentence of death has been commuted to penal servitude of life.

[“Miscellaneous.” The Patriot (London, England), May 17, 1866, p. 334 (p. 14 of issue)]

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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): A return (says the St. James's Gaztte) has been made of the number of women in convict prisons on commuted capital sentences for infanticide. The first name on the list indicates that a criminal whose offences startled the whole country more than 22 years ago is still living. Even in the year that Constance Kent confessed and Dr. Pritchard was hanged, the sensation caused by the case of Charlotte Winsor was extraordinarily great. For it was on no ordinary charge of infanticide that the wretched woman was condemned, it being proved on her trial at Exeter that she thrived on an oganised system of child-murder of which criminal record scarcely furnish a parallel. She was saved from the gallows by the fact that some technical points arising out of the case had to be argued before the Court for Crown Cases Reserved; and respite followed respite, it became generally believed that the terrors of suspense added to the punishment, and that penal servitude for the term of her natural life should be allotted. Ultimately, after the prison grave had been dug, and Calcraft, the then executioner had twice visited Exeter the Crown exercised its privilege of mercy, and memory of the crime, and the criminal gradually died away. But in the west of England both are still vividly remembered, and the announcement that Charlotte Winsor is still alive will furnish material for talk for weeks to come at many a Devonshire fireside.

[“A Child Murderer.” The Queanbeyan Age (Australia), Nov. 19, 1886. p. 4]

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For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.

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