John James Fairbrother

Genealogy

John James Fairbrother < James Fairbrother + Frederick Fairbrother > Arthur Ernest Fairbrother > Muriel Fairbrother

Life

Birth

John James Fairbrother was born in 1872 (exact date unknown), in Flint Hill, Dorking, Surrey, to James and Elizabeth Fairbrother (nee Smith).

Murder Case

In November 1908, John James Fairbrother was convicted of the murder of his wife, Emily Fairbrother (nee Higgins) and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life of penal servitude. The Newspaper articles below provide more detail on the case.

Newspapers

11th September 1908

SOURCE: The Surrey Mirror and County Post, Friday, September 11, 1908. (Page 8, col 4, top); The Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times & County Post, Saturday, September 12, 1908. (Page 5, col 7, top)

TRAGEDY AT WESTCOTT

MURDER OF A WIFE, ATTEMPTED SUICIDE OF HUSBAND

On Wednesday last the village of Westcott was startled and horrified by a terrible double tragedy - the murder of a young wife, and the attempted suicide of the husband. The affair is the outcome of a sad domestic story extended over several years. The victims are John James and Emily Fairbrother, who have lived in St. John's-road for about ten months. The man has been employed of late as a general labourer on Bury Hill Estate, and was generally considered a good workman; though somewhat quiet and reserved, he was at times inclined to be quarrelsome. This, at least, is the opinion of those to whom he was best known. He was from 35 to 40 years of age; his wife was about 31, of not altogether unprepossessing appearance, and the last person to be expected to be associated with so sordid a story as this. The couple kept themselves mostly to themselves; their neighbours saw little of them, but it was generally known that they lived an unhappy life. There were frequent quarrels; as late as Friday night the woman sought the protection of a neighbour, whom she told her husband had tried to strangle her. As a result the police were called in, and there is no doubt this rankled in the mind of her husband, to whom it was also known that the woman had taken steps to obtain a separation. In fact, they had once lived apart; this was in London two or three years ago, and at that time Farebrother (sic.) was committed to prison for neglecting to support his wife and children, of whom there are three, two boys and a girl, the eldest being ten and the youngest between two and three. There is further reason to believe that he was aware that his wife contemplated going into Dorking on this errand on the following Wednesday morning, for she had spoken to one or two neighbours in the hope of inducing them to accompany her to speak on her behalf as to

HIS CONDUCT TOWARDS HER.

This may be the keynote of the terrible tragedy which was subsequently enacted, and which can be briefly told. On Wednesday morning Farebrother (sic.) apparently did not go to work; a neighbour, Mrs. Highgate, looked in about 11 o'clock, and the couple were then quarrelling, or, at any rate, the man was swearing at the wife. Half an hour later, Mrs. Farebrother (sic.) was standing outside her gate; she was then "lively," according to one who saw her, and chatting to some neighbours. We use the adjective in the sense that she was cheerful, as was her general disposition; she was a temperate woman. She was fond of a glass of beer, but she was generally averse to going into public-houses, and during the whole of the time she has lived in St. John's-road she was hardly ever seen, if at all, in the bar of the "Cabin," which is nearly exactly opposite her cottage. About noon St. John's-road was scared by a runaway, and it was a few minutes afterwards that a woman was seen struggling across the road to the "Cabin." It proved to be Mrs. Fairbrother, who was bleeding from a terrible wound in the throat. She was trying to staunch the flow of blood with one hand, and in her collapsed condition she was able to tell Mr. Woodnutt, the landlord, that her husband had "done it." Just before a horrible scream had penetrated across the road, and evidently the woman's appearance, in her terrible plight, was the sequel. With much presence of mind the landlord procured a portion of a sheet, which he wrapped round the poor woman's throat, and messengers were at once sent to bring medical aid. Mr. W. Tucker cycled first to Dr. Royston Fairbank, and then into Dorking for Dr. Rodgers, both of whom were quickly on the spot. In the meantime, Mrs. Fairbrother had been lifted on to the seat outside the premises, and after she had received attention of a temporary character it was thought better to remove her back to her house, which was done with the assistance of P.C.'s Steele and Luff, who were soon on the scene, and Mr. Woodnutt and Mr. Tucker. It was then that the full extent of the tragedy revealed itself. No sooner was the cottage entered than

TERRIBLE GROANING

was heard from the direction of an upstairs room, and on proceeding there P.C. Steele found the man wallowing in blood upon the floor of the back bedroom. He had apparently fallen near the window, and in his agony had rolled beneath the bed, where he spent most of his life's blood. He was quite conscious at first; he tried to speak, but his injuries were such as to make him quite incoherent. Given a piece of paper, he was able to write something to the effect that "She is a bad, wicked woman; it's all through the worry of last Friday"; while on the floor he tried to write something which was difficult to decipher, but which appeared to be: "My head's bad; razor in the cellar." From the first there was not the slightest hope for the woman, and within half-an-hour of receiving her injuries she succumbed. Her body remains in the room in which she expired; she received the last and necessary attentions from the kind and sympathetic neighbours. It was thought desirable to remove the man to the Dorking Cottage Hospital; this was done as speedily as possible, both Dr. Fairbank and Dr. Rodgers accompanying him. He was admitted in a collapsed condition, though quite conscious, and at the time of writing (Wednesday night) little or no hopes were held out of his recovery. In addition to the medical gentlemen mentioned he was attended by Dr. Blakeney and Dr. Cornish.

The cottage in which the tragedy took place presented a horrible sight. One who saw it described it as resembling a slaughter-house, and the picture is not far fetched. From the traces of blood there is not the slightest doubt that the woman was attacked in the wood cellar. She was apparently engaged in sawing or chopping wood for the fire, for a few inches in front of the wood block were blood marks, which were also to be seen upon a small saw lying near, just as if it had been hastily dropped. Evidently she was taken unawares from behind; that she made

A DESPERATE STRUGGLE

there is equally no doubt, for the subsequent removal of her clothing revealed a deep gash on the left shoulder, about three inches in length and a quarter of an inch deep. Having freed herself she escaped up the stairs, through the sitting-room, and out into the open by the scullery door. This much is evident by the blood which she shed during her progress; another blood track through the sitting-room, up the stairs to the bedroom, marked the course taken by the man, who clearly cut his own throat before leaving the cellar, bespattering the walls as he proceeded upstairs. Further evidence of this is to be found in the fact that the razor, with white bane handle, was afterwards found lying open upon the wood cuttings, with marks of the foul deed still upon it.

Though the man was earning a good weekly wage, and was in constant work, the cottage presented a wretchedly impoverished condition, very much in contrast to the well-kept windows. Practically only two rooms are furnished, and that very meagrely. The floor of the sitting or living room was covered by bits of old carpet and pieces of sacking, and the furniture in the main comprised a deal table, chest of drawers, a sofa very much the worse for wear, and a few chairs. In addition to the kitchener there was a gas stove, and the walls were hung with tradesmen's almanacks. A sewing machine, however, testified to the poor woman's industry, while two or three lines hung across the room, bearing newly-washed children's clothes, as further evidence of this. From the appearance of the table, a hasty meal had recently been taken, and apparently one of the last acts of the deceased woman was to prepare some mushrooms for stewing. The front room was entirely devoid of furniture, as was the case with the back bedroom, to which the man retreated, with the exception that there was here a bedstead upon which the children evidently slept.

The murderer's remark that "It is through the worry of last Friday" has reference to something which occurred that evening, and was

THE OUTCOME OF THE QUARREL

already spoken of. It seems that Mrs. Fairbrother had been to Holmwood. The parents of both are near neighbours at Mill Bottom, and the dead woman had been to see them. Her husband appears to have gone out to meet her, and he is said to have found her drinking outside a public-house with another man.

There is reason to believe that the not on the part of the man was not altogether unpremeditated, because in the morning he sent the eldest girl to her grandparents at Holmwood. The two younger children were in the house at the time, and were witnesses to much of the terrible tragedy. They followed their mother, in her injured condition, across the road, but they were afterwards considerately taken charge of by the neighbours. Happily they are of much too tender years to fully appreciate all the horrors of the sad affair. The fact that a large piece of wood or stake, about 3ft. in length and 2in. in diameter, was found in the bedroom by the side of the man is rather significant. It leads to the supposition that with this he first attacked his wife, though this cannot be conclusively proved until a post-mortem or a more thorough examination of the body is made.

Mr. Woodnutt, the landlord of the "Cabin," was, as we have shown, the first to be apprised of the terrible affair. "It was as near as possible ten minutes past twelve," he told our representative, "that Mrs. Fairbrother came screaming into the bar. I could see her throat was terribly cut. She was able to say, 'Look what he's done. Oh! the brute!' I asked her who she meant and she said, 'My husband.' As she was about to fall I caught hold of her, and she exclaimed, 'Oh, my dear children.' At that time her two little ones, who had followed her across, stood looking at her."

No event has stirred the village so greatly since the tragic death a few years ago of Mr. Heaver, a much respected resident, who, it will be remembered, was waylaid and shot in the back and mortally wounded by his wife's brother while proceeding to Sunday morning service at the Parish Church, the murderer afterwards committing suicide.

Note: the following paragraphs appear only in the Saturday report in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser.

LATEST PARTICULARS

From inquiries made it appears that on Tuesday afternoon the deceased woman called at the Magistrates' Clerk's office in Dorking and applied for a summons against her husband under the Summary Jurisdiction Married Woman Act on the ground of cruelty. She complained that she was afraid any longer to live with him, as she feared he would do her some injury. It is an essential part of the law that at the time of the application the woman must be living apart from her husband, and the deceased was advised not to return to her home that night, which which case the requirements of the law would have been fulfilled, and a summons could be granted. She seemed dissatisfied, and evidently the fear which she had given expression to was very real. However, when she left it was in the belief that she was going to act on the advice given, but that she did not do so is now too painfully evident.

Enquiries at the Cottage Hospital on Thursday elicited the information that the injured man had had a fair night, and was, if anything, slightly better, though still in a very dangerous state. Conscious, but quite unable to speak, he had appeared anxious to make a statement regarding the shocking affair, and he has been enabled to do this by means of a pencil and a piece of paper. What he has written is now in the possession of the hospital authorities. He says in effect that he had been shaving, and going down into the cellar for some wood he found his wife trying to strangle herself with a piece of rope. He endeavour to cut the rope with the razor, and in the struggle he unintentionally cut her throat. As she ran up out into the street he did not know what to do, and he decided to cut his own throat. He further expressed a wish that he may die, as he knows what the end will be. Without wishing in any way to question anything the poor fellow has said, it is necessary to state that no traces of a piece of rope were found in the cellar after the tragedy. It has further transpired that a few days previously Fairbrother had told an acquaintance that he had made up his mind to leave his wife, so that their wishes were to that extent mutual. The couple had been married eleven years; they had lived at Holmwood before coming to Westcott, and their three children are nice little things.

We were informed at the Hospital yesterday (Friday) morning that Fairbrother's condition remained about the same, and that the doctors hold out little hope of his recovery. The man is not yet aware that his wife is dead; he has not definitely asked the question, but has inquired as to her whereabouts. He has made a further statement to the effect that he was "driven to do it."

THE INQUEST

Mr. Gilbert White, the deputy coroner, opened the inquest on the deceased woman at the Reading Room, Westcott, on Friday afternoon at 3 o'clock. A special edition of the DORKING AND LEATHERHEAD ADVERTISER, containing a full report, will be published early on Saturday morning.

19th September 1908

SOURCE: The Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times & County Post, Saturday, September 19, 1908. (Page 5, col 3, top).

Note: Similar articles appeared in The Surrey Mirror and County Post on 15th and 18th September 1908. The details are almost exactly the same, with a few minor corrections (e.g. Mrs. Highgate became Mrs. Hygate). The article posted below has later updated information.

WESTCOTT TRAGEDY

THE INQUEST OPENED

DECEASED'S UNHAPPY MARRIED LIFE

The following report of the inquest on Mrs. Emily Fairbrother, the victim of the tragic affair at Westcott, which was opened by Mr. Gilbert White, the deputy coroner (for West Surrey), at the St. John's Mission Room, Westcott, on Friday afternoon, appeared in our Special Edition of last week. A jury of fifteen was empanelled to hear the evidence. Mr. C. J. Webber being elected foreman. The jury viewed the body, which was lying in the front room of the cottage in St. John's-road, where the tragedy took place.

The Coroner, in opening the inquest said it would not be possible to finish the inquiry that afternoon, but it would be necessary to adjourn it to a day and hour which would be convenient as far as possible for all parties. He proposed on that occasion to call evidence of identification, and he would probably take two other witnesses.

John Higgins, living at Mill Bottom, Holmwood, who described himself as formerly a gardener, was then called, and deposed: - I have seen the body of deceased, and identify her as my daughter, Emily, the wife of John James Fairbrother, who lived at St. John's-road, Westcott. She was 31 years of age on June 13th last.

The Coroner: Of course you know nothing of this occurrence?

Witness: No, I do not.

How long had they been married?

Witness produced the couple's marriage certificate, from which it appeared that they were married in 1897.

The Coroner: When did you last see her alive?

Witness: On Tuesday evening.

How was that? - She came down to my house at Holmwood.

How did she seem? - Well, about as usual.

Did she make any complaint at all? - No more than common like.

What do you mean by that? - Well, she was about the same as she has been.

Was her husband with her? - No.

Was she alone? - No; she had a friend with her.

Who was that? - Mrs. Highgate, of Westcott.

You say she seemed about as usual. How was that? - Well, I can hardly describe it - not very pleased with herself.

Was she excited or worried? - Well, unsettled.

Did she make any complaint about anyone? - No; nothing particular before me.

You did not hear her say she was unsettled in her mind? Do you mean that? - She seemed upset.

Did she tell you what it was about? - No, she never said anything to me; what she said to her mother I don't know.

What about her married life - can you say anything about that? - Well, I will tell you the truth, your honour. She told me soon after she was married that if she could have got a train to bring her home soon after she had got to London, she would have come home the same night.

Did she live happily or unhappily? - Unhappily the whole of the time.

You mean she has not had a happy married life? - Not at all.

Did she complain to you about it? - Yes, many times.

You never heard her husband use any threats? - I can't say I did - before me.

She has complained to you - what about? - Well, his ill-treatment.

You have seent hem often together? - Yes.

And never heard him threaten her? - No; but she was at my house one Sunday when he came there, and "busted" open the door and broke the lock.

How long ago was that? - About five years.

THE LANDLORD'S EVIDENCE

Edward Henry Woodnutt, landlord of the Cabin public-house, Westcott, said: On Wednesday, as near as I can tell at ten past 12, the first thing that attracted my attention was that I heard a scream. I could not say it was the deceased. I was then in the bar of my house. The moment afterwards the deceased came running into the house. She lived opposite the "Cabin." She held her clenched hands up to her neck.

The Coroner: Was she covered with blood? - When she first came in I did not notice her condition, and I said to her, "My good woman, what do you come here with your troubles for?" The next moment I saw blood streaming from her.

What did you say to her? - Shall I tell you what I did before I spoke to her? When I saw her condition I took a glass cloth from the counter, went to the other side of the bar, and pressed the cloth as tightly to the side of her neck as I could. I said, "Who done this?" and she said "My husband." I led her to a stool outside the house and sat her upon it. She repeated, "My husband did this, the brute."

Yes? - She exclaimed, "Oh, my poor dear children," and just then her two little ones came and stood in front of her. I asked them to go away, and again she said, "Oh, my poor dear children." I said, "You will soon be better." and she faintly said, "No, I shan't." At that time, Mr. Tucker came along, and, having gone inside and got another glass cloth for me, he went for a constable. P.C.'s Steel and Luff then came upon the scene, and carried the woman across the road to her cottage.

You did not go into the cottage? - I went in. I was not with her when she died. I was upstairs with John Fairbrother.

A NEIGHBOUR'S TESTIMONY

Mary Jane Hygate, a married woman, living in St. John's-road, Westcott, was next called. She said she remembered Wednesday morning last.

The Coroner: What was the first thing that happened on Wednesday morning with regard to Mrs. Fairbrother? - At about twenty minutes to nine her little girl came in and said her mother wanted to speak to me.

What is the little girl's name? - Edith.

Did you go there? - Yes, at ten minutes to nine.

How long did you stop there? - Until ten minutes past eleven.

Who was in the house? - Mr. and Mrs. Fairbrother, the two children, and myself.

Were they there all the time? - They were there all the time.

You were there just for two hours? - Yes.

Are there more than two children? - There are three children - a girl and two boys. The boys were there.

They were all in the house? - Yes, they were indoors.

What were Mr. and Mrs. Fairbrother doing there? - They were swearing at each other.

All the while? - Yes.

They had had breakfast? - Yes. The husband told me he had sent to Mr. Bartlett stating that he was not well, and was not going to work. He had a suspicion that something was in the wind and he was going to find out what it was.

Did he threaten her while you were there? - No.

They were simply swearing at each other? - They were swearing at each other.

You left at ten minutes past eleven. Did you have anything to drink while you were in the house? - No.

What made you stay so long? - Because she asked me to, but not in his hearing. She came to me in the wash-house and asked me to stay with her.

How long after you had been there was this? - It was about half-past ten. She said she was afraid to be in the house alone with him.

He didn't hear her say so? - No, sir.

Did you see her after you left at half past ten? - I saw her again at about half-past eleven.

Where was that? - I was going up Mrs. Young's to borrow a truck to go "wooding." She was then in the passage by the side of her house.

Yes. - She asked me where I was going, and I replied to Mrs. Young's.

What did she say to you then? - She said, "Why don't you come to Dorking this afternoon with me. I can give you a bag of wood from downstairs."

Did she say what she was going into Dorking for? - Yes; she had told me on the Tuesday that she was going into Dorking on Wednesday to get a magistrates summons. I said that if she would give me the wood I would go after dinner. I then went to Mrs. Young's to get a truck for Thursday.

Where was her husband when she told you that, do you know? - No; I didn't go indoors then. I saw him two or three minutes afterwards when Mrs. Fairbrother asked me to go across to "The Cabin" and get her some beer for her dinner. I went to the back door behind her to get a jug. She said to her husband, "Do you want any beer, Jack," and he said, "No, I don't want anything."

Did you see the husband then? - Yes, he was sitting on the sofa then.

Did you go for her beer? - Yes, I went for half a pint at "The Cabin."

Who gave you the money? - Mrs. Fairbrother.

You didn't see Mrs. Fairbrother alive afterwards? - No.

The Foreman: Did the husband threaten her at all while you were there? - Not while I was there.

A Juror: You have heard him threaten her? - No; only she has told me he had threatened her.

You had nothing to drink there? - No.

Was the man sober? - Yes.

Did Mrs. Fairbrother tell you why she sent for you at twenty minutes to nine? - Yes, she sent for me to go to Dorking with her.

Do you know what they were swearing at each other about? - Yes. It was because he had heard that she was going to Dorking to get a summons. He said she had given him a month once; he would watch it she didn't give him another. She replied, "You may get two months." That is what they were swearing about.

The Coroner: He didn't strike her while you were there? - Not while I was there.

DOCTOR'S EVIDENCE

Dr. Royston Fairbank, of Westcott, deposed: On Wednesday morning a message was left at my home while I was from home. It requested that I should go and see Mrs. Fairbrother in St. John's-road. I went there as soon as possible, and found deceased lying on the kitchen floor, with her throat so badly cut that it was impossible to do anything for her. She was in a dying condition, and she died at one o'clock. The cut was immediately under the chin, extended right across the throat and the windpipe was entirely severed. Blood was flowing down the windpipe and suffocating her. She died from loss of blood and suffocation. She was quite unable to speak. Several of the blood vessels of the neck were wounded, and there was a wound in front of the left shoulder three inches long and rather deep. It was not a dangerous wound but severe. It was a clean cut and was evidently done at the same time as the other wound. The only other external signs of violence were a small bruise on the right arm and one on the left hip. They appeared to have been done some little time judging by the discolouration of the skin. They had not been done on that day at all events.

The Coroner: Was it possible for the wound to be self-inflicted? - Yes, it was possible. I cannot say which way the wound was cut.

The wound was on the left shoulder? - Yes. That was a clean cut.

Supt. Boon asked if it was possible that the wound on the left shoulder might have been caused by the hilt of the razor if it had been drawn down after severing the neck?

Witness replied in the affirmative.

The Coroner: Was the dress cut? - It was much torn.

The Coroner intimated that this was all the evidence he proposed to take on this occasion.

Supt. Boon said he understood the man was slightly better.

THE MAN'S CONDITION

In reply to the Coroner, Dr. Fairbank said he was not attending the man, but he hardly thought it would be possible for him to be sufficiently well to be able to attend, even if he continued to progress, within three weeks. His throat was not so badly cut as the woman's and there was not so much loss of blood. The windpipe was opened very much in the same place as hers, but it was not severed.

The Coroner then said he would adjourn the inquiry for a fortnight - till Sept. 25th at 5 o'clock - and if necessary he would then adjourn it again.

FUNERAL OF MRS. FAIRBROTHER

The funeral of the deceased woman took place in the churchyard of St. Mary Magdalene, South Holmwood, on Monday afternoon, Holmwood being the district where the parents of both the woman and her husband reside. The body was taken from Westcott during the morning and placed in the house of Mrs. Mitchell in Norfolk-road, where the sad cortege started for the interment. There were a good many mourners, and the scenes witnessed at the graveside were very affecting. A fairly large number of villagers of Holmwood and Westcott looked on quietly and respectfully. The last rites were performed by the Vicar, the Rev. C. C. Inge. There were no flowers, in accordance, we understand, with a wish expressed by the family.

FAIRBROTHER'S CONDITION - UNEXPECTED RECOVERY

On inquiring at the Cottage Hospital yesterday (Friday) morning, we were informed that Fairbrother has, during the past week, made marvellous progress, and that, contrary to the belief at first entertained, there is now every hope of his making a complete recovery, though it must be several weeks before he will be able to leave the hospital. The injuries he inflicted upon himself are of a very serious character; the wind-pipe was severed, but fortunately the jugular vein just escaped. The man is watched night and day by a constable. He is quite sensible, and adheres to his statement that he found his wife trying to strangle herself, and that in cutting the rope he inflicted the fatal injuries. He has been made aware of the fact that his wife is dead, but he appeared to express no great surprise, and has apparently displayed no feelings of anguish. He has, however, shown some concern for the welfare of the children, about whom he has repeatedly inquired. There is little prospect of him being able to attend the adjourned inquest next Friday; if physically fit, the decision to do so will rest with himself and with those who advise him.

A DISCOVERY

In our last issue we referred to a statement made by the injured man to the effect that he found his wife in the cellar attempting to strangle herself, and that in cutting the rope to release her he unintentionally cut her throat. It is true that he has made various contradictory statements, some of a more or less incriminating character, but Supt. Boon has shown every desire to do what is possible in the man's interest, and this story of his has been the subject of special investigation, with the result that a discovery has been made which is at any rate significant. The floor of the cellar where the woman received her fatal injuries, and where, there is equally no doubt, the man so seriously injured himself, is covered to a depth of several inches with pieces of bark and wood chippings, and just beneath the surface has been found a piece of rope, with a nail attached to it as if it had at one time been affixed to the wall. Upon it there are unmistakable marks of blood, while the rope has been severed evidently with some sharp instrument. Of course, this gives colour to the man's statement; it is at any rate circumstantial evidence of some importance. But in justice to the dead woman it is desirable to consider what there is to be said to refute the suggestion of attempted self-destruction. In the first place Mrs. Fairbrother's disposition, as those who knew her can testify, was not such as to suggest she would take her own life. It is true she had lived very unhappily with her husband, but she had her three children to think of, and of them she was passionately fond. And then her neighbour friend, Mrs. Hygate, who was with her for an hour or two on the morning of the tragedy, detected no signs of despondency, only agitation from the fear of her husband, while but a few minutes before the fatal injuries were inflicted upon her, Mrs. Fairbrother was seen at her garden gate as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken, or was likely to take place. The suggestion occurs might not the man have first attempted to strangle the poor woman with the rope, and failing in this to have resorted to the razor? This, it will be noticed, more nearly coincides with his own story, but then the use of the rope is negatived by the fact that an examination made by Dr. Fairbank after the opening of the inquest, failed to reveal any marks around the deceased's neck, which would have been apparent had there been any pressure of the rope. We have seen it stated that the man deliberately placed teh woman's head across the wood chopping block while he inflicted the horrible injuries - a surmise which is apparently based on the fact that a few blood stains were found on the wood chippings a few inches in front of the block. This, however, may mean little or nothing; the cellar is of such small dimensions that any stains falling from one or the other of the two injured persons must of necessity have fallen in close proximity to the block. After all, anything which can be suggested can only be in the nature of a surmise. The one party to the shocking affair is beyond reach; the other is recovering from his self-inflicted injuries. He alone has the key to the mystery, and if so minded only he can say what actually occurred.

2nd October 1908

SOURCE: The Surrey Mirror and County Post, Friday, October 2, 1908. (Page 2, col 5, top).

THE WESTCOTT TRAGEDY

ADJOURNED INQUEST

VERDICT OF "WILFUL MURDER" AGAINST FAIRBROTHER

The inquest on the body of Mrs. Emily Fairbrother, aged 31, who is alleged to have been murdered by her husband, John James Fairbrother, now lying in the Cottage Hospital suffering from self-inflicted injuries, was resumed on Friday afternoon, in the St. John's Mission Room, Westcott, by Mr. Gilbert White, the deputy coroner. All the fifteen jurymen having answered to their names,

The Coroner intimated that he proposed to read over the evidence already taken, and then to proceed with the evidence of the constables.

The witnesses, John Higgins, father of the deceased woman, Henry Edward Woodnutt, landlord of the "Cabin" beerhouse, Mrs. Mary Jane Hygate, the neighbour who was in the deceased's house on the morning of the tragedy, and Dr. Royston Fairbank, were then called forward, and confirmed the evidence previously given by them. Additional witnesses were then called.

POLICE EVIDENCE

P.C. John Luff, stationed at Westcott, deposed: About 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, the 9th September, from information received, I proceeded to the "Cabin" public house in St. John's-road, where I saw the deceased seated on a form outside the house in charge of Mr. Woodnutt, the landlord. Her throat had been bandaged by several cloths; she was unable to speak, and appeared to be in a dying condition. With the assistance of P.C. Steele and others we took her back to the kitchen of her house, which is opposite the public house. I remained with her and assisted the doctor, who had shortly before arrived. Deceased died at one o'clock. I then made a search of the cellar; I found a bag of wood chips, and by its side a small shovel, which had several bloodstains upon it. The whole of the cellar floor was covered with wood chips. In the centre of the cellar stood a chopping block, which was slightly spotted with blood. I picked up the razor which I now produce; it was open and stained with blood.

The Coroner: Did you see the man Fairbrother?

Witness: I went upstairs to assist the doctor to dress the man's wound, but I did not see anything that took place up there.

By Supt. Boon: P.C. Steele went upstairs before me. I saw a large stake lying by Fairbrother's right leg, which I picked up. It was also marked with bloodstains. (The piece of wood was about three feet in length, and several inches in circumference.) Witness added that the man was lying in the centre of the bedroom floor with his throat cut.

The Coroner: Was there much blood about? - Yes, there was a lot of blood under the bed, and on the centre of the floor where the man was lying when I went upstairs.

You say under the bed? - Yes; the bed was pushed hard up against the wall, and the blood was on the floor at the end of the bed close to the partition. After we had got the woman back into the kitchen we heard

A NOISE UPSTAIRS,

which sounded as if the man was rolling out from under the bed.

I suppose the bedroom was furnished in the ordinary way of a poor cottage - There was only just a bed in the room.

No other furniture? - No.

A juror: Did you see any blood on the stairs? - Yes, all the way up the stairs, and also across the kitchen floor leading out to the wash house.

Any on the razor? - Yes, just as it is now.

Was it fresh? - Yes, it was quite wet. There was also blood on the cellar steps, and across the kitchen into the scullery, and then along the outside passage leading to the "Cabin" public house.

And also upstairs leading to the bedroom? - Yes.

The Coroner: In which bedroom was the man? - In the centre of the three bedrooms, over the kitchen. There was also blood on the wall of the front bedroom near the door.

Then he must have gone into the front room first?

Witness thought not, and suggested the probability was that as Fairbrother proceeded upstairs the blood spurted from his throat as he passed the open door of the front room on his way to the centre bedroom.

The Coroner: But supposing the man had looked into the room to see if anyone was there would you not expect to see blood marks? - Oh, yes.

Was there blood on the floor of the front room? - Just a little on the floor and on the wall near the door.

Was there any furniture in the front bedroom? - Yes.

Was there much blood in the cellar? - A very little. Witness explained that the floor being covered with earth and chips the blood would quickly be absorbed.

A juror: Was there any blood on the bedroom window of the room in which Fairbrother lay? - Yes.

So he might have gone to the window to see if he could see his wife? - Yes.

The Foreman: Was there any blood on the bed? - No.

P.C. James Lewis Steele was next called, and deposed: Shortly after 12 noon on Wednesday, 9th September, I received certain information and went to St. John's-road. On the seat outside the "Cabin" beerhouse I saw deceased smothered in blood, being supported by Mr. Woodnutt, the landlord. Her neck was enveloped in linen, and I could see she was

IN A DYING CONDITION.

With assistance I removed her to the kitchen opposite, and laid her on the floor. I asked Mr. Woodnutt if he would send for a doctor, and he said he had done so. At that moment, I heard groaning upstairs. Leaving the woman in charge of P.C. Luff and others I at once ran upstairs, followed by Mr. Woodnutt. On the floor in the centre of the bedroom over the kitchen I found John Fairbrother lying on his right side in a pool of blood, with his throat terribly cut. Thinking he might have a razor or some other instrument in his hand, I turned him over on to his back, and finding he had not I ran about half-way down the stairs and called for assistance, and told someone to run for another doctor. I then went back upstairs and met Fairbrother at the bedroom door. I took him back into the room, and laid him down on the floor. Assistance then arrived, and we bandaged his throat with a sheet from a child's cot.

The Coroner: Did you find anything in the room? - I found the stake (produced), and a piece of broken chair was on the child's bed.

Did Fairbrother say or do anything? - He could not speak, but he was conscious, and motioned to me as if to draw my attention to the floor. He then dipped his finger into a bedroom utensil which was near, and with the moisture wrote on the uncarpeted floor: "Razor in cellar. It is all through last Friday." Afterwards Dr. Fairbank handed the man a piece of paper, and with a pencil which I produced Fairbrother wrote, while I held the paper: "Never have anything (to do) with that woman; she is a wicked woman." Dr. Fairbank and Dr. Rodgers having attended to his injuries, they instructed me to take the man to the Dorking Cottage Hospital, which I did. Mrs. Fairbrother had in the meantime expired. Witnesses added that on the bedroom window sill which overlooked the passage leading from the scullery, there were marks of blood, as if deceased had looked out of the window.

Supt. Boon: And the floor was covered with blood? - Yes; it was more like a slaughter house.

THE VERDICT

The Coroner, addressing the jury, said this was all the evidence he proposed taking. He had seen Fairbrother that afternoon at the hospital, and had asked him if he wished to attend the inquest to give evidence, as if so he would adjourn the inquiry, as he thought it was only right that the man should have the opportunity of doing so if he wished. He expressed himself, however, as having no desire to attend, and under these circumstances he (the Coroner) did not propose to adjourn the inquiry again, but to close it on that occasion. Looking at all the circumstances, they must all agree that it was a very sad case. What the jury had to decide was the cause of death of this poor woman, and further, how she came by her death. The evidence was such that he thought they could return but one verdict, viz., that her throat was cut by her husband, and if that were the case it was for the jury to determine whether or not it was wilful murder. If there was anything to be said in Fairbrother's favour the opportunity would occur on a future occasion. Supposing he were insane - he did not suggest that he was - the jury would return a verdict of wilful murder, and it was not for them to go into any extenuating circumstances. They had simply to determine the cause of the deceased woman's death, and who, if anyone, was responsible for it; and any extenuating circumstances would be left to another tribunal.

After a minute's consideration the jury returned a verdict of "Wilful murder" against John James Fairbrother.

10th October 1908

SOURCE: The Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times & County Post, Saturday, October 10, 1908. (Page 5, col 1, top).

THE WESTCOTT TRAGEDY

ACCUSED BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES

Sufficiently recovered from his self-inflicted injuries, John James Fairbrother, 36, described as a general labourer, was brought up at the Dorking Police-court, yesterday (Friday) morning charged with the wilful murder of his wife, Emily Fairbrother, at Westcott, on Sept. 9th. He was further charged with attempting to commit suicide. Accused was formally arrested the same morning by Supt. Boon, at the Cottage Hospital, where he has been cared for since the day of the sad affair, and has made a remarkable recovery from the serious wound in his throat. He, however, still bore evidence of his illness, his head and throat being still bandaged. He was allowed to be seated outside the dock during the proceedings, being placed near Mr. W. J. Hodges, who appeared on his behalf. The prosecution was instituted by the Treasurer, who were represented by Mr. F. G. Frayling. The magistrates on the Bench were Mr. J. C. Deverell, in the chair, Mr. F. H. Harding, and Mr. F. D. Grissell.

THE CHAIRMAN AND THE PRESS

The Chairman, upon the magistrates entering the court, said: "Before the Court sits I would like to say a word with reference to the action of the Press in this matter. I saw with great regret some criticisms in the local Press upon the supposed defence of this man. I think it is most improper that any criticisms of that kind should be published while the matter is sub judice. The Bench hope the Press will take notice of what I say."

THE CASE FOR THE TREASURY

Mr. F. G. Frayling opened the case on behalf of the Treasury in a speech at rather under a quarter of an hour's duration. He explained that he appeared to prosecute on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and stated that the prisoner was charged with the wilful murder of his wife Emily by cutting her throat with a razor in St. John's-road, Westcott, on the 9th of September, between the hours of eleven and twelve in the morning, and he was also charged with attempting to take his own life by cutting his throat with a razor at the same time and place. He might tell the Bench at once that the verdict at the Coroner's inquest was one of wilful murder. The facts were these: The prisoner was a woodman, employ by Mr. Barclay, at Bury Hill, and had been in his service for eleven years. He was 36 years of age, while his wife was 31. They had three children, the eldest being about ten years of age. Prisoner and his wife appeared to have lived a very unhappy life, and on the day before the occurrence the deceased had gone to the Magistrates' Clerk's office at Dorking, to take out a summons against the prisoner, but was told to come the following day. On the Friday previous to the murder the deceased had explained to P.C. Steele of the prisoner and in consequence the constable went to her house and saw both deceased and the prisoner. In the prisoner's presence she then asked what she should do, and the constable advised her to take out a summons, and it was with this object in view that she went to the Magistrates' Clerk's office on the day before the occurrence. On that same day the prisoner came across the deceased having some beer outside the Crown public-house with a man and a woman, and that apparently gave rise to some unpleasantness. On the morning of the murder, September 9th, deceased sent for Mrs. Hygate, a neighbour, to come and see her. Mrs. Hygate went to the house and stayed from about nine o'clock until ten past eleven.

"MY LAST DAY'S WORK IS DONE."

In the course of the morning the prisoner sent his litte girl, Edith, aged about 11, to his mother's, at South Holmwood with a letter, and this letter he proposed to read to the Bench, because some parts of it, he thought, were important. The letter was as follows:-

"Dear Mother, - Just a few lines hoping to find you all quite well, as it is not very comfortable for me. Emily is started again, and she ain't half leading me a time of it. Tell Amy or Walter to see my club all right. No good me trying. I do hope the children gets looked after. Dear Edie always says her prayers now night and morning. I hope she don't have to go in no home. Last Friday night I was waiting about at home. Edie and me thought she seemed a long time going to Dorking, so I says to Edie 'I will go as far as the Crown.' She was up there drinking, so I waited a while to see how long she was going to be, but she was in no hurry, so I went and spoke to her, and then she started, so it has made things very unpleasant. When we had those words before she used to sit downstairs here of a night after I was gone to bed drinking with the lodger, Mrs. ----. I was wrong through telling her that, no I think this is all the this time, with lover from your loving son, - J. J. Fairbrother. My last letter. My last day's work is done."

THE DISCOVERY

While Mrs. Hygate was in prisoner's house, she said the prisoner and the deceased were slanging each other the whole of the time. During the morning Mrs. Hygate bought half a pint of beer for the deceased, who asked the prisoner if he would have some, but he replied that he wanted nothing. At 11:30 Mrs. Hygate, who had gone away half-an-hour earlier, returned and saw prisoner sitting on the sofa in the kitchen. The deceased was also there. Prisoner appeared to have told Mrs. Hygate that he had sent to Mr. Barclay telling him he would not be at work that day, and added that he had a suspicion that something was in the wind, and he was going to find it out. About ten minutes to twelve that morning the landlord of the Cabin beerhouse, which was situated opposite prisoner's house, heard screams and immediately the deceased rushed across the road to the bar bleeding from a wound in her throat and holding her hands to her neck. She was asked by the landlord certain questions, and to these she replied. The landlord put a cloth round her neck, and did all he could, and she was carried into her house. Dr. Fairbank attended her, but in the meantime she had died from suffocation, the result of the injuries she had received. Upstairs, the prisoner was found lying on the floor in one of the children's bedrooms. There were three rooms upstairs, and he was in the middle room. His throat was cut, and on the arrival of the the doctor he was unable to speak, but he managed to write the words on the floor, "Razor in cellar. It's all through last Friday." That was the day deceased was seen drinking outside the public house, and the day of the visit of the policeman. In the cellar was found a razor, and blood was traced from the cellar to the bedroom, and across the road to the bar of the public-house, where the woman went after the occurrence. Prisoner remained in the hospital until that morning, when he was charged with murder by the Superintendent, and having been cautioned, made a statement (which is given in evidence below). Mr. Frayling, referring to prisoner's statement, said as a matter of fact, some rope and a nail that had apparently come out of the wall was found at the cellar, but Dr. Fairbank would state that he saw no signs of the rope having been round the deceased's throat.

John Higgins, of Mill Bottom, Holmwood, father of the deceased, said his daughter was 31 years of age, and had been married to the prisoner about eleven years. He had every reason to believe they led an unhappy life. His daughter had often made complaints to him. She visited him on the evening of September 7th (?); she was accompanies by Mrs. Hygate, a neighbour. His daughter was a sober woman.

Cross-examined by Mr. Hodges: They had lived at Westcott less than 12 months.

Mrs. Mary Jane Hygate, wife of Mark Hygate, labourer, of St. John's-road, Westcott, said she had known deceased about two months to speak to. She and her husband lived unhappily, and she had heard them quarrelling. She had never heard Fairbrother threaten his wife, but on the Monday previous to the day of her death she saw marks on her left leg, right hip and right arm. Deceased made a statement as to how she received the injuries. On the following evening witness accompanied Mrs. Fairbrother to Dorking; she visited the magistrates' clerk's office, and explained to witness the object of the visit. They then went together to Holmwood, where they visited deceased's mother. They left Holmwood about 6:20, and when they got as far as Mr. Bond's shop they met the prisoner. Accused said to deceased, "I'm just too late." She asked, "What for?" He said, "Never mind; I'm just too late." As they were walking back prisoner told her he was going down to her mother's. Deceased replied "You know where she lives; you can go." He further said: "I suppose you have been down and

TOLD YOUR MOTHER

how we have been going on." Next morning, September 9th, at twenty minutes to nine, the prisoner's little girl Edith came to witness's house, and from what she said to her she went over to the deceased. She remained at her house till ten minutes past eleven. Accused, Mrs. Fairbrother, and two children were there. The daugher, Edith, the eldest child, had gone to Holmwood. The prisoner was in the habit of going to work every day, but he had not gone this day. They were swearing at one another the whole of the time witness was there. Prisoner said he had heard she had been to Dorking to take out a summons against him. She made no answer. He then said he had done one month for her, and he didn't mean to do another. Deceased replied: "You may get two next time." Prisoner told witness that he had sent word down to Mr. Barclay that he was not well, and could not go to work; that he got paid whether he went to work or not, and that there was something in the wind, and he was going to find out what it was. Witness left the house at ten past eleven, and twenty minutes later she saw deceased standing at the top of the passage by the side of her house. She had a conversation with her, and witness fetched her half a pint of beer, taking the jug from the kitchen. She heard deceased say to her husband, "Do you want any beer, Jack?" He replied: "I don't want anything." Deceased was then quite sober. Witness had never seen her the worse for drink. From what she knew of him prisoner was

A SOBER MAN.

Mr. Hodges asked no questions.

Edward Henry Woodnutt, landlord of the Cabin beerhouse, Westcott, said at 12:10 p.m. on the day in question he was in the bar, when he heard a scream outside. Immediately afterwards deceased came running into the bar. She was holding her hands up to her neck, and he noticed blood coming from her throat. Witness spoke to her, and she then made a statement to him. He picked up a glass cloth, and tried to stop the bleeding.

Mr. Frayling remarked that as the prisoner was not present this statement could not be given in evidence against him.

Witness, continuing, said he helped to carry the woman back to her cottage. He saw prisoner in the bedroom. Witness believed the deceased to be a sober woman.

Dr. Royston Fairbank, of Westcott, said he was called to the cottage at 12:45 p.m. on September 9th. He saw the deceased woman lying on the floor. Her throat was badly cut, and she was in a dying condition, and in fact, died at one o'clock. On the 11th he made a post mortem examination. The wound in the throat was five inches long; it commenced on the right jaw about midway between the chin and the angle of the jaw, and went across the upper part of the throat, nearly to the ear on the left side. It was very deep, dividing the muscles of the front of the neck and the windpipe. There was another wound on the front of the left shoulder quite half an inch in depth and about two and a half inches in length. Both the wounds might have been

INFLICTED BY A RAZOR.

In his opinion the two wounds were made at the same time, athat on the shoulder being a continuation of the stroke which caused the wound in the throat. He formed the opinion that teh person who inflicted the wound was standing in front of the deceased, and that the cut was made from the left to the right of the person who caused the injuries. He also found slight bruises on the hip and on the right arm. The cause of death was loss of blood and suffocation. Considerable violence must have been used. On the 9th he examined the prisoner's wound; he had a cut on the neck very similar to that of the woman, though not so severe. That might also have been done by the razor; it was a dangerous wound. While witness was in the room accused was lying on the floor on his side. He could not speak and witness saw him dip his finger in a bedroom utensil and write on the floor something which witness could not decipher. Witness gave prisoner a piece of paper; the constable produced a pencil, and prisoner wrote: "Never have nothing (to do) with that woman; she is a wicked woman."

PROBABLE DEFENCE

Mr. Frayling: Now in view of the prisoner's statement this morning, I must ask you were there any marks around the woman's neck as if she had tried to hang herself? - I carefully examined her head and neck for any signs of violence, and could not find any.

If she had tried to hang herself there must of necessity have been some marks around her neck? - Yes.

Mr. Hodges: I take it that the question fo finding any marks around her neck, caused by a rope, would depend upon how far she had succeeded in the operation of hanging? - Certainly,

If she had not actually placed any weight on the rope there would be no marks? - No; unless the rope was drawn tight around her neck.

Mr. Frayling: Supposing it had been necessary to cut her down, assuming she had tried to hang herself, would there be any marks around the neck? - I should say so certainly.

P.C. Luff deposed to being called on the morning of the tragedy to the Cabin beerhouse, and finding the injured woman on a seat outside. He helped to convey her back to her house. He saw the prisoner lying on the floor in the centre of the bedroom over the kitchen, and by the side of him was the wooden slate produced. There was much blood on the floor, and some on the window ledge, and also on the floor and wall at the entrance to the front bedroom. There were traces of blood from the cellar, through the kitchen, and up the staircase to the bedroom. There was another track from the cellar, across the kitchen, into the scullery, out of the back door, and along the passage leading to the Cabin. He searched the cellar, and

PICKED UP THE RAZOR

produced. It was wide open, and stained with blood.

P.C. Steele gave corroborative evidence, and said that on removing the deceased back to her house he heard groaning upstairs, where he found the prisoner lying with his throat terribly cut on the floor. He bandaged his throat with a sheet from a child's cot. Prisoner motioned to witness as if to draw his attention to the floor; he then dipped his finger in a bedroom utensil, and wrote on the floor: "Razor in cellar. It is all through last Friday." On the Friday previous, September 4th, deceased sent for witness. He went to a neighbour's house, where he saw her. She made a complaint to him, and showed him a mark on the face - a slight abrasion under the right eye. She said she was afraid to go indoors, and he advised her to seek the protection of the magistrates. He afterwards went to the house with her, and saw the prisoner. He asked Fairbrother what the bother was about. He said: "Wouldn't it aggravate you if you saw your wife outside a public house drinking with another man?" Witness told him he did not see any harm, as there was a third person present named Ward. Prisoner promised to remain quiet, and there was no further disturbance that night. He had been called to the house several times on account of the bother between the prisoner and his wife; he should say they lived unhappily at times. He never saw either the man or the woman the worse for drink. Witness

FOUND THE ROPE

produced in the cellar on the 11th September. It was cut as produced, and had a bent nail attached to one end. He also found a hole in the wall where the nail had apparently been; it was about 5ft. from the ground. Under the hole was a heap of chips about four or five inches high.

By Mr. Hodges: The rope appeared to have been cut through with some sharp instrument, and one end had apparently blood stains upon it.

Nelly Fanny Ward, a single woman, living at St. John's-road, Westcott, said that on Friday evening, September 4th, she saw the deceased in Dorking. They walked home together with a man named Dorothy, a fishmonger. After going to Chambers', the fishmonger's, deceased returned to the "Crown." Dorothy went inside, leaving deceased and witness outside. He brought out a mug of beer; witness refused to partake of it, but Mrs. Fairbrother drank some. They were there about eight or nine minutes. Prisoner passed them when they were outside the "Crown." He walked by, and then came back. He said: "What's the conversation about - gin?" Mrs. Fairbrother said: "Gin has not been mentioned." He wanted to know who witness was, and then asked her the same question, and she made the same answer.

Ernest Letts Sellick, clerk to the magistrate's clerk, said that about four o'clock on Tuesday, the 8th, deceased came to the office, and asked for a

SEPARATION SUMMONS

against her husband. He asked her on what grounds, and he gave her certain instructions. She said she would call again in the morning.

Mrs. Elizabeth Fairbrother, mother of the accused, who resides at Mill Bottom, Holmwood, deposed to receiving a visit from her son's daughter Edith on the morning of September 9th, who brought her the letter produced from her son. (This is the letter read by Mr. Frayling in his opening statement).

PRISONER'S STATEMENT

Supt. Boon said that morning he formally arrested prisoner at the Cottage Hospital. He charged him with the wilful murder of his wife. In reply he said:

I didn't murder my wife. She murdered me. I found her in the cellar hanging by the neck with the rope around her neck. I cut her down; whilst doing so the rope broke away from the wall. I do not remember cutting her throat at all. She knocked me across the pole with something. When I got up I found my throat cut. I ran away upstairs, thinking someone was after me. I jumped out of the window, ran back upstairs again, went in the front bedroom, from there into the back bedroom, and crept under the bed. Everything being quiet, I crept out into the room, and was going downstairs to get some stuff to put round my neck, but I could not stand. I do not remember anything afterwards until I found myself in the hospital here.

This completed the case for the prosecution.

Prisoner was asked if he wished to say anything in answer to the charge, and Mr. Hodges, replying on his behalf, said he would reserve his defence.

Prisoner was then committed for trial.

27th November 1908

SOURCE: The Surrey Mirror and County Post, Friday, November 27, 1908. (Page 5, col 1, top).

NOTES AND REFLECTIONS

THE ASSIZES

The Calendar at the Surrey Autumn Assizes, which opened at Guildford, on Thursday, before Mr. Justice Ridley, was somewhat larger than that usually experienced at this season of the year. A number of cases may be classed as unimportant, and probably would have been dealt with at Quarter Sessions, but for the very obvious desire of those acting in a judicial capacity in the county that prisoners should not be kept a longer time than imperatively necessary awaiting trial. On the other hand, some of the charges are of considerable gravity, and will occupy the attention of the Court no little time in disposing of them. The Westcott murder charge has been fixed for Saturday, and it is satisfactory to learn that a capable counsel has been engaged on behalf of the man Fairbrother, as this ensures that every possible point will be urged in the man's defence. Generally sentences on Thursday were not severe, but one man who, at the Croydon Police Court, confessed to causing a fire which resulted in £8,000 damage being sustained, and who had on three previous occasions been sentenced to penal servitude, was described by the judge as a notorious character and a danger to the public, and sentenced to a term of seven years' penal servitude.

28th November 1908

SOURCE: The Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times & County Post, Saturday, November 28, 1908. (Page, col 5, middle).

THE WESTCOTT MURDER

TRUE BILL RETURNED BY THE GRAND JURY

At the Autumn Assizes for the County of Surrey, which opened at Guildford on Thursday, before Mr. Justice Ridley, his lordship, in the course of his charge to the Grand Jury, referred at some length to the case in which John James Fairbrother (37), sawyer, was indicted for the wilful murder of his wife, Emily Fairbrother, at Westcott, near Dorking, on Sept. 9th, and also of attempting to commit suicide. The learned Judge said that in this case it would be the duty of the Grand Jury to return a true bill. It appeared that Fairbrother had lived at Westcott, near Dorking, for some months. He had been married to his wife for as long a time as twelve years. On September 8th the deceased woman took a summons returnable before the Dorking magistrates, for a separation order. There had been one proceeding before the Justices before that, and he thought that was a summons for assault. On September 9th, the following day, the prisoner was not at his work, and the evidence would show that he was quarrelling with his wife at home nearly all morning. He supposed they might say fairly that it was more or less about nothing; about trivialities, and partly about the summons that had been taken out on the previous day. At 11:30 on that morning they didn't appear to have been in a state of enmity towards each other, for the woman asked a friend to fetch half a pint of beer, and asked the man if he wanted anything to drink. That was the last seen of her until shortly after twelve o'clock, when she was heard to scream and was found on running across the road to the public house opposite, to have been seriously cut. At one o'clock she died. There was no doubt that from the marks found in the house, and from the razor that was found, that these injuries were inflicted by the prisoner. He thought in this case it could hardly be suggested that anything but murder was the crime committed. There was this view of the case which must not be lost site of: that was that in the house was found a rope which had been cut. The prisoner stated to the constable that he had seen the woman hanging in the cellar, and had cut her down. He made a long statement to the constable, which he (the learned Judge) need not repeat, as to where he had been; that he had hidden himself under the bed before the constable came to escape from some supposed foe or enemy, a statement which had entirely no foundation in fact. With this view of the case before them it might be said that the prisoner was not in a condition to be responsible for his actions, and if that was so it would be a matter for that Court to deal with, and would not come before the Grand Jury. In this case he thought they had no alternative to returning a true Bill.

Mr. Lawless, later in the day, intimated that he had been instructed to appear for the prosecution in this case, and that Mr. Whiteley was for the defence. He asked the learned Judge if he could set apart a special day for the hearing of the case.

The Judge said he understood the hearing would occupy the greater part of the day, and that he would take the case on Saturday.

1st December 1908

SOURCE: The Surrey Mirror and County Post, Tuesday, December 1, 1908. (Page 2, col 8, top).

THE WESTCOTT MURDER

DEATH SENTENCE

John James Fairbrother (37), described as a sawyer, stood trial at the Surrey Assizes on Saturday, before Mr. Justice Ridley, on a charge of wilfully murdering his wife at Westcott on September 9th. Accused pleaded not guilty, and as he stepped briskly into the dock it was noticed that he had discarded the bandages which enveloped his neck when before the magistrates, as the result of the injury he received. Although still looking somewhat pale, it was apparent that his condition had greatly improved: it was, however, visibly evident that he was still affected by the wound in the throat, and when giving evidence he had considerable difficulty in making himself understood. He was accommodated with a seat in the dock, and throughout his trial, which lasted from 10:30 until six o'clock in the evening, he evinced great interest in the proceedings and on two or three occasions occupied himself in making notes, which were handed down to the counsel entrusted with his defence.

There was a further indictment against the prisoner for attempting to commit suicide.

Mr. Lawless, with whom was Mr. Briggs, (instructed by the Treasury) appeared for the prosecution, and the accused was defended by Mr. G. C. Whiteley, with him being Mr. W. van Bredz.

Mr. Lawless opened the case at great length, and said that on the morning of the murder prisoner sent a letter to his mother's house at Holmwood. On the top were the words, "My last letter; my last day's work is done."

A JURYMAN FAINTS

As counsel was proceeding to minutely describe the injuries of the deceased woman - attaching considerable importance to the cut on the left shoulder, which, he submitted, was a continuation of the wound in the throat - as well as the trails of blood found in and about the house, a juryman fainted, and the case had to be stopped. Dr. Fairbank, of Westcott, who was in attendance as a witness, went to the man's assistance, but he was forbidden to speak to him. After the juryman had eventually revived he was declared unfit for service and thereupon discharged. Another juryman was sworn in, which necessitated counsel repeating his opening statement.

Witnesses called at the police-court gave evidence, including Mrs. Hygate, a neighbour, who said the prisoner and his wife wre quarrelling on the morning of the murder.

Edward Henry Woodnutt, landlord of the Cabin beerhouse, Westcott, which is nearly opposite prisoner's house, said that about ten minutes past twelve on the morning of Sept. 9th he heard screaming and immediately afterwards Mrs. Fairbrother came running into the bar, bleeding from a wound in the throat. P.C.'s Steele and Luff, who had been sent for, were quickly on the scene, and the woman was carried back into her house.

Dr. Royston Fairbank, of Westcott, describing the wound in the deceased's throat and on the left shoulder, said the injuries had the appearance of having been done at the same time. The wound in the throat, which was five inches long, and very deep, was inflicted from the right side to the left.

In answer to Mr. Lawless, witness said he was certainly of the opinion that deceased did not inflict the wound in her throat, because she could not have cut her left shoulder, which was a continuation of the wound in the neck. He explained that when a wound had been made by a suicide, the cut descended at the end, but when a wound was inflicted by a person assaulting another the cut at the end generally ascended. The wound in the deceased's throat was an ascending one. There were no rope-marks on the throat. He also examined the prisoner.

The Judge: Had the wound on the prisoner been inflicted by himself.

Witness: I formed the opinion that it had been.

THE DEFENCE

PRISONER GIVES EVIDENCE

The accused, John James Fairbrother, then left the dock to give evidence, and having been sworn, he was allowed, on the application of his counsel, to stand near the jury, in order that he might be able to make himself understood. The prisoner's speech has been greatly affected by the injury to his throat, and although he answered the questions in a prompt and intelligent manner, he was unable to form his words clearly and distinctly, so that certain parts of his evidence were unintelligible.

Prisoner described his quarrel with his wife on the 8th, and said she continued to quarrel after they went to bed. He was then questioned by Mr. Whiteley as follows :-

As the result of that night did you go to work the next morning? - No; I was too ill.

Did you sleep at all that night? - No; I could not.

When you got up the next morning, what did you do? - I laid down on the sofa a little while, and then cleaned my boots. She "kept on at me."

And after that? - I wrote a letter. (This was the one the little girl took to his mother).

Did your wife see the letter? - She always saw my letters.

Proceeding, the prisoner said: "I had a shave that morning (Sept. 9th) and when I finished I left the razor on the kitchen table. I sat down for a little while, and afterwards had a wash. Then I heard something down in the cellar. I was then getting ready to explain about the letter which had been sent to my mother. On hearing a noise in the cellar I went down and saw my wife with a rope upon her neck. The rope was not tight; it was nailed above. I noticed she had a razor in her right hand.

What did you do first? - I took hold of the rope and then took the razor away from her and cut the rope.

At the time you cut the rope what happened? - The rope came down from the wall.

Did you cut the rope after it had fallen? - Yes.

After cutting the rope what did you do with the razor? - I threw it down on the ground.

Was it open? - Yes, it was open.

What did you do then? - I lifted her up and asked her what she meant by it. I then went and picked up the rope, and while I was doing so something caught me on the back of the neck, knocking me down almost senseless. When I got up I felt something at my throat, as if something had hit me there. I put my hands up to my neck, and felt blood coming from it.

All this you have been telling us happened in the cellar? - Yes.

Then did you crawl upstairs and go into the room where you were found? - Yes.

Mr. Whiteley here handed the prisoner the piece of paper on which he had written: "Never have anything to do with that woman; she is a wicked woman." and asked him if he remembered writing that when the doctor and constable were with him in the room.

Prisoner replied: It is my writing.

When you wrote that did you think your wife was alive or dead? - I did not think she was dead.

From beginning to end have you ever threatened your wife? - No, sir.

PRISONER CROSS-EXAMINED

Mr. Lawless then subjected prisoner to a searching cross-examination, in the course of which Fairbrother said he was annoyed at his wife being in the company of Nellie Ward and Mr. Dorothy, because she ought to have been at home looking after the children. He denied striking his wife after they returned home that evening, or that there was a bruise on her cheek.

Counsel then addressed the Court. Mr. Whiteley making a powerful plea on behalf of the prisoner.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty, recommending the prisoner to mercy. Sentence of death was passed in the normal way, prisoner stating as he left the dock, "I wish to appeal against it."

5th December 1908

SOURCE: The Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times & County Post, Saturday, December 5, 1908. (Page 5, col 2, middle).

THE WESTCOTT TRAGEDY

To those who have followed all the circumstances of this sad story the verdict of the jury at the Surrey Assizes will occasion no surprise. It is difficult to see how they could have come to any other decision; the evidence against the accused was so complete that any other verdict than that he wilfully and intentionally brought about this poor woman's violent death was almost impossible. The jury very properly gave every consideration to the story told by Fairbrother, but it was clearly one which would not bear investigation. In finding him guilty of the capital charge they took a merciful view of the case by strongly recommending him to mercy on the ground that the act was unpremeditated and that he received great provocation. For this course there was some justification, though it may not be so apparent as regards the former, because, among other circumstances, the letter which he wrote to his wife's parents some hours before the act was committed very clearly showed what was in his mind at the time. There can, however, be no doubt that he had considerable provocation, though that cannot for a moment justify such a foul deed. The couple had beoynd question lived a very unhappy life; there were frequent quarrels which were apparently largely the outcome of the deceased woman's waywardness. It is clear that Fairbrother disliked the associations which his wife kept, and that he did what he could to discourage her from neglecting her home. Under all these circumstances the jury's recommendation seems a just one, and it remains to be seen if the Home Secretary will exercise his prerogative of mercy, though his Lordship, in sentencing Fairbrother to death, advised him not to place reliance on such being the case, but to make the best use of the short time that might only remain to him should the recommendation be disregarded.

SOURCE: The Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times & County Post, Saturday, December 5, 1908. (Page 6, col 2, top).

THE WESTCOTT TRAGEDY

DEATH SENTENCE

John James Fairbrother (37), described as a sawyer, stood his trial at the Surrey Assizes on Saturday, before Mr. Justice Ridley, on a charge of wilfully murdering his wife at Westcott on September 9th. Accused pleaded not guilty, and as he stepped briskly into the dock it was noticed that he had discarded the bandages which enveloped his neck when before the magistrates, as the result of the injury he received. Although still looking somewhat pale, it was apparent that his condition had greatly improved : it was, however, visibly evident that he was still affected by the wound in the throat, and when giving evidence he had considerable difficulty in making himself understood. He was accommodated with a seat in the dock, and throughout his trial, which lasted from 10:30 until six o'clock in the evening, he evinced great interest in the proceedings, and on two or three occasions occupied himself in making notes,m which were handed down to the counsel entrusted with his defence.

There was a further indictment against the prisoner for attempting to commit suicide.

Mr. Lawless, with whom was Mr. Briggs, (instructed by the Treasury) appeared for the prosecution, and the accused was defended by Mr. G. C. Whiteley, with him being Mr. W. van Breda.

THE PROSECUTION

Mr. Lawless, in opening the case, said prisoner and his wife had been married for some years and had three children - Edith, a girl of about ten years, and two little boys. For the past nine or ten months they had been living in St. John's-road, Westcott, where the alleged murder was committed. Their married life, certainly of late years, had been unhappy, but both were sober people. The first date he must call the jury's attention to was Friday, September 4th. It appeared on the evening of this day a Miss Nellie Ward and a Mr. Dorothy, a fishmonger, were both out together and met the deceased woman. They got into conversation, and they all walked together for some distance. After visiting a fishmonger's shop, where deceased apparently went to get some fish, they all proceeded to the "Crown" public house. The two women sat outside, and Dorothy went in and brought out some beer. Whilst they were there prisoner came along the road, and seemed rather annoyed at seeing his wife in the company of Dorothy. Prisoner passed by, and when he came back again he said: "What's the conversation about - gin?" Deceased replied that gin had not been mentioned. He then told Nellie Ward that her company was no good. What happened afterwards was somewhat significant. Deceased went home, and later in the evening, about nine o'clock, she was found at a neighbour's house, where P.C. Steele was called in, and to him deceased made a complaint. The constable subsequently went to prisoner's house, and asked Fairbrother what the bother was about. Prisoner replied: "Wouldn't it aggravate you if you saw your wife outside a public house drinking with another man?" P.C. Steele had evidently heard what had occurred outside the public house, and he told prisoner he saw no harm, as there was a third person present. Prisoner promised the constable he would be quiet for the night, but in case there might be a disturbance he remained near the house for some time afterwards. The next incident was on Monday, September 7th - the alleged murder was on the Wednesday - when the deceased woman showed Mrs. Hygate, a neighbour, numerous marks on her body. On the following day in consequence of something that deceased told her, Mrs. Hygate went with her to Dorking to the office of the Magistrates' Clerk. Later in the day they went to the house of deceased's father at Holmwood, and there again she made a statement to her mother. They left there about 6.20 in the evening to return home to Westcott, and outside Mr. Bond's grocer's shop they met the prisoner. Some conversation took place, and he said to his wife: "I am just too late." Deceased said, "For what?" He replied: "Never mind; I'm just too late." He further remarked: "I suppose you have been down to your mother, and told her what has been going on." On coming to the morning of Wednesday, September 9th, the day on which the tragedy occurred, the prosecuting counsel produced a number of plans of prisoner's house for inspection by his Lordship and the jury, and having explained at some length, proceeded to state that at about twenty minutes to nine on the morning of the 9th Mrs Fairbrother's little girl was sent to Mrs. Hygate, and in consequence of what the little girl told her she went to deceased's house, and remained there until ten minutes past eleven. Prisoner had not gone to his work that morning. While she was there there was quarrelling going on between the husband and wife, and during their conversation he said he had heard that his wife had been to get a summons against him, adding that he had "done" one month for her and did not mean to do another. Deceased replied, "You may get two next time." Prisoner told Mrs. Hygate that he had sent word to Mr. Barclay that he was not well, and could not go to work that day. He further said there was something in the wind, and he meant to find it out. These were very significant words. Another curious thing happened that morning. After the little girl Edith had been sent for Mrs. Hygate the prisoner sent her off some time during the morning to his mother's house at Holmwood with a letter written by himself. It was a curious letter, and a significant one. On the top were the words,

"MY LAST LETTER,

My last day's work is done." It then proceeded :-

"Dear Mother, - Just a few lines hoping to find you all quite well, as it is not very comfortable for me. Emily is started again, and she ain't half leading me a time of it. Tell Amy or Walter to see my club all right. No good me trying. I do hope the children gets looked after. Dear Edie always says her prayers now night and morning. I hope she don't have to go in no home. Last Friday night I was waiting about at home. Edie and me thought she seemed a long time going to Dorking, so I says to Edie, 'I will go as far as the Crown.' She was up there drinking, so I waited a while to see how long she was going to be, but she was in no hurry, so I went and spoke to her, and then she started, so it has made things very unpleasant. When we had those words before she used to sit downstairs here of a night after I was gone to bed drinking with the lodger, Mrs. ----. I was wrong through telling her that, so I think this is all this time, with love from your loving son, - J. J. Fairbrother."

This, repeated counsel, was a significant letter. In it there was an accusation against the wife of drinking with a neighbour, and also of drinking at the Crown Inn. But that was quite innocent; moreover, deceased was a sober woman. The significant part of the letter was the words, "My last letter. My last day's work is done." Mrs. Hygate remained with deceased that morning until ten minutes past eleven, and then went away. She came back again about 11.30, and saw Mrs Fairbrother in the covered passage between the two houses. Mrs. Hygate went and fetched her half a pint of beer from the beerhouse opposite. Deceased called out to her husband, asking him if he wanted any beer, and he replied, "No; I don't want anything." Mrs. Hygate then went away, and at ten minutes past twelve Mr. Woodnutt, the landlord of the "Cabin" beerhouse, heard a scream. Immediately afterwards the deceased woman came running out of the house opposite with her hands to her neck and blood streaming from her throat. She rushed into the beerhouse, and made a statement. Mr. Woodnutt did what he could for the woman by wrapping a cloth round her throat. The police were sent for, and on their arrival the poor woman was taken over to her house, but she died within an hour after. When deceased was taken indoors groaning was heard from upstairs, and P.C. Luff, on going up, found the prisoner lying in the centre bedroom in a

POOL OF BLOOD

with his throat cut. He was quite conscious, but he could not speak owing to his condition. There was a utensil close by, and prisoner, dipping his finger into it, wrote on the floor: "Razor in cellar; it is all through last Friday." Upon that the constable went down into the cellar, and found there an open razor, with blood upon it, close to a block of wood. After prisoner had written this statement on the floor he wrote on a piece of paper: "Never have anything with that woman; she is a wicked woman."

A JURYMAN FAINTS.

As counsel was proceeding to minutely describe the injuries of the deceased woman - attaching considerable importance to a cut on the left shoulder, which, he submitted, was a continuation of the wound in the throat - as well as the trails of blood found in and about the house, a juryman fainted, and the case had to be stopped. Dr. Fairbank, of Westcott, who was in attendance as a witness, went to the man's assistance, but he was forbidden to speak to him. After the juryman had eventually revived he was declared unfit for service, and thereupon discharged. Another juryman was sworn in, which necessitated counsel repeating his opening statement.

PRISONER'S STATEMENT.

Mr. Lawless said the prisoner made the following statement when formally charged at the hospital :-

"I didn't murder my wife. She murdered me. I found her in the cellar hanging by the neck with the rope round her neck. I cut her down; whilst doing so the rope broke away from the wall. I do not remember cutting her throat at all. She knocked me across the poll with something. When I got up I found my throat cut. I ran upstairs, thinking someone was after me. I jumped out of the window, ran back upstairs again, went in the front bedroom, from there into the back bedroom and crept under the bed. Everything being quiet, I crept out into the room, and was going downstairs to get some stuff to put round my neck, but I could not stand. I do not remember anything afterwards until I found myself in the hospital here."

This said counsel, was a very extraordinary statement indeed, but if they tested it, it would not bear investigation. Prisoner's story was that his wife went down the cellar to hang herself. It was true that the constable who searched the cellar found some rope in two pieces with a noose at one end and a nail attached to another. There was a hole in the wall, where the nail was supposed to have been; it was 5ft, 2in. from the bare ground; but there were 4 inches of wood chips on the floor, which reduced the distance to 4ft, 10in. The deceased woman was over 5ft. in height, and therefore it would be impossible for her to hang herself. Moreover, what was to be said against the prisoner? In his letter on the morning of the tragedy he wrote that "his last day's work was done," and the jury must also remember that he told his wife that "he had done one month for her and he did not mean to do another." If, Mr. Lawless concluded, the defence adopted the story of the prisoner, it was for the jury to believe whether or not it was credible; but he ventured to submit that the story did not bear examination, and that it was absurd. Therefore, he would ask them to convict him on the indictment of wilful murder.

Charles Algernon Trimm, architect and surveyor, Dorking, having been called to prove drawing up the original plan of the prisoner's house, copies of which were before the jury.

John Higgins, of Mill Bottom, Holmwood, father of the deceased gave evidence. His daughter, he said, was 31 years of age, and had been married eleven years, but he did not believe she and her husband had lived very happily.

Nellie Fanny Ward, St. John's-road, Westcott, bore out counsel's statements as to what took place outside the Crown Inn on Friday, September 4th, and

Ernest Letts Sellick, deputy clerk to the Dorking Justices, deposed to receiving a visit from deceased, and as a result of a statement which she made he gave her certain instructions.

Mrs. Elizabeth Fairbrother, mother of the accused, was then called, and on account of her infirmity had to be assisted into the witness box. She, however, gave her evidence in a very clear manner, and spoke to receiving on September 9th the letter which had been read.

Cross-examined by Mr. Whiteley: Her son was a kind father and fond of his children. He had some differences with his wife for some time.

Questioned as to the words, "My last day's work is done," on the top of the letter, witness said this was a saying frequently used by them.

Mr. Whiteley remarked that there was a music hall song in which these words occurred.

Mrs. Mary Jane Hygate, of St. John's-road, Westcott, a neighbour of the deceased woman, bore out counsel's statements as to her visits to Mrs. Fairbrother's house on September 7th, 8th, and the morning of the tragedy. While she was in the house on the latter day there was quarrelling going on between the prisoner and his wife.

Edward Henry Woodnutt, landlord of the Cabin beerhouse, Westcott, which is nearly opposite prisoner's house, said that about ten minutes past twelve on the morning of Sept. 9th he heard screaming and immediately afterwards Mrs. Fairbrother came running into the bar, bleeding from a wound in the throat. P.C.'s Steele and Luff, who had been sent for, were quickly on the scene, and the woman was carried back into her house.

P.C. Luff said when he arrived the woman was unable to speak, and appeared to be in a dying condition. Witness then described the trails of blood about the house, as well as the discovery of an open razor, stained with blood, in the cellar.

P.C. Steele also gave evidence as to helping to remove deceased back to her house, and to finding prisoner lying on the floor in the centre bedroom, with his throat cut, when he wrote the statements already referred to on the floor and on a piece of paper.

THE ROPE IN THE CELLAR.

On Sept. 11th, two days after the tragedy, he examined the cellar, and found the two pieces of rope produced on the floor almost in the centre. The rope appeared to have been cut. Seeing a nail attached to one end he examined the walls and found a hole in which the nail had undoubtedly been; it was 5ft, 2in. from the bare ground, but there were about four inches of chips on the floor, which made the distance about 4ft, 10in.

Cross-examined: Witness had been called to deceased's house on several occasions, but prisoner had never been summoned for assaulting his wife. He had no hesitation in saying that the nail found at one end of the rope had recently come out of the hole in the wall.

Dr. Royston Fairbank, of Westcott, describing the wound in the deceased's throat and on the left shoulder, said the injuries had the appearance of having been done at the same time. The wound in the throat, which was five inches long, and very deep, was inflicted from the right side to the left.

DOCTOR AND SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS.

In answer to Mr. Lawless, witness said he was certainly of the opinion that deceased did not inflict the wound in her throat, because she could not have cut her left shoulder, which was a continuation of the wound in her neck. He explained that when a wound had been made by suicide, the cut descended at the end, but when a wound was inflicted by a person assaulting another the cut at the end generally ascended. The wound in the deceased's throat was an ascending one. There were no rope-marks on the throat. He also examined the prisoner.

The Judge: Had the wound on the prisoner been inflicted by himself.

Witness: I formed the opinion that it had been.

Mr. Whiteley: The cut on deceased's neck was above what's generally known as the "Adam's Apple"? - Yes.

Do you expect to see a wound so high up if it was inflicted by someone else? - It might be inflicted anywhere.

When you were before the Coroner did you say the wound was possibly self-inflicted - Yes, I did.

Further questioned as to having changed his opinion on this point the doctor explained that immediately after the inquest was over he made a further examination of the body so as to satisfy himself as to whether the wound was self inflicted.

The Judge: From your examination of the wound, and taking also your opinion that it was not self-inflicted, how must the man have been standing - He was standing face to face, and made the wound from her right to left.

Mr. Whiteley: You are of opinion that both these wounds (prisoner's and deceased's), must have been inflicted by the same person? - There was nothing to show that.

Supt. Boon deposed to formally charging the prisoner with the wilful murder of his wife, on October 10th, at the Dorking Cottage Hospital, and that in reply he made the statement given above.

At this stage, Mr. Lawless asked the Judge to allow the statements made by the deceased woman to Mr. Woodnutt, when she ran into his house, to be admitted as evidence.

Mr. Whiteley objected.

His Lordship said he should admit them on the ground that it was a dying declaration if the prosecution pressed it.

Mr. Lawless said he would not press it.

This closed the case for the prosecution.

THE DEFENCE

PRISONER GIVES EVIDENCE.

The accused, John James Fairbrother, then left the dock to give evidence, and having been sworn, he was allowed, on the application of his counsel, to stand near the jury, in order that he might be able to make himself understood. The prisoner's speech has been greatly affected by the injury to his throat, and although he answered the questions in a prompt and intelligent manner, he was unable to form his words clearly and distinctly, so that certain parts of his evidence were unintelligible.

In answer to Mr. Whiteley he said he was married 11 years ago, and during the intervening time he had frequent squabbles with his wife. They had had six children, three of whom were living. On the morning of Sept. 4th he went out because his wife was late getting home, and he saw her outside "The Crown" as he passed. He afterwards returned home with her, and she was annoyed because he told her he did not like to see her with other men. He remembered P.C. Steele coming to see him that evening, and he told the constable he was annoyed at his wife's conduct. The bruises which Mrs. Hygate saw on his wife's body were there a week before, and they were the result of her slipping down the cellar stairs. His wife had always complained about her thigh. On Tuesday, Sept. 8th, he returned home just after 5.30 in the evening, and afterwards went to meet his wife, who had gone to see her mother at Holmwood. He met her outside Mr. Bond's shop.

Mr. Whiteley: When you saw her there you said to her, "I am just too late" - what did you mean?

Prisoner: I thought I should be able to get over to her home before she left.

On the night before Sept. 9th, did you and your wife go to bed together? - Yes; but she continued to quarrel.

As the result of that night did you go to work the next morning? - No; I was too ill.

Did you sleep at all that night? - No; I could not.

When you got up the next morning, what did you do? - I laid down on the sofa a little while, and then cleaned my boots. She "kept on at me."

And after that? - I wrote a letter. (This was the one the little girl took to his mother).

Did your wife see the letter? - She always saw my letters.

Replying to other questions concerning this particular letter, prisoner said: My wife sent my daughter off with the letter. I had no idea of the letter being sent.

Why did you put on this letter, "My last day's work is done?" - It was an old saying of ours.

Proceeding, the prisoner said: "I had a shave that morning (Sept. 9th) and when I finished I left the razor on the kitchen table. I sat down for a little while, and afterwards had a wash. Then I heard something down in the cellar. I was then getting ready to go out - down to my home to explain about the letter which had been sent to my mother. On hearing a noise in the cellar I went down and saw my wife with a rope upon her neck. The rope was not tight; it was nailed above. I noticed she had a razor in her right hand.

What did you do first? - I took hold of the rope and then took the razor away from her and cut the rope.

At the time you cut the rope what happened? - The rope came down from the wall.

Did you cut the rope after it had fallen? - Yes.

After cutting the rope what did you do with the razor? - I threw it down on the ground.

Was it open? - Yes, it was open.

What did you do then? - I lifted her up and asked her what she meant by it. I then went and picked up the rope, and while I was doing so something caught me on the back of the neck, knocking me down almost senseless. When I got up I felt something at my throat, as if something had hit me there. I put my hands up to my neck, and felt blood coming from it.

All this you have been telling us happened in the cellar? - Yes.

Then did you crawl upstairs and go up into the room where you were found? - Yes.

Mr. Whiteley here handed the prisoner the piece of paper on which he had written: "Never have anything with that woman; she is a wicked woman," and asked him if he remembered writing that when the doctor and constable were with him in the room.

Prisoner replied: It is my writing.

When you wrote that did you think your wife was alive or dead? - I did not think she was dead.

From beginning to end have you ever threatened your wife? - No, sir.

Did you ever intend to do her any harm? - I said I would never hurt her, nor I wouldn't.

You remember that on the morning in question, when Mrs. Hygate was in your kitchen you said something about a summons? - Yes.

You remember mentioning about "doing a month for your wife." - Yes.

You did a month in prison once? - Yes.

Was that because you failed to maintain your wife? - Yes.

You have never been summoned for assaulting her? - No, sir.

Since then you have been living together, although you have had these quarrels? - Yes.

PRISONER CROSS-EXAMINED.

Mr. Lawless then subjected prisoner to a searching cross-examination, in the course of which Fairbrother said he was annoyed at his wife being in the company of Nellie Ward and Mr. Dorothy, because she ought to have been at home looking after the children. He denied striking his wife after they returned home that evening, or that there was a bruise on her cheek.

What time were you shaving in the kitchen on the Wednesday morning? - About 11 o'clock.

Why so late as that? - I had been lying on the sofa.

Do you say you never wrote a letter without your wife seeing it? - She always saw them.

Do you swear that you showed her this letter on the Wedneday morning? - Yes.

What did you mean by writing upon it, "My last letter" - Prisoner made no reply.

Can you explain it? - I cannot give any explanation. Mr. Lawless then questioned the accused about sending his daughter Edith down to his mother with the letter, and suggested that he gave the directions because he intended to commit this serious deed.

Prisoner replied: No; I did not raise my hand.

What condition did you find your wife in the cellar? - There was a rope about her neck.

I suggest it was impossible for her to hang herself there, as the ceiling was not high enough? - She was leaning back.

Where was the razor? - In her hand, sir.

What was the first thing you did? - I took hold of the rope, and then the razor, and cut the rope. As I was doing this the rope came away from the wall.

Then you tried to lift her up? - Yes.

And picked her up and put her on her legs? - Yes.

Was she sensible? - Yes.

Prisoner added that while he was stooping down to pick up the rope something caught him across the poll.

Was it that big tool? asked Mr. Lawless, pointing to a large stake which was found beside the prisoner when discovered by the police in the bedroom.

"It may have been," he replied.

Was it in the cellar? - Yes.

Prisoner then stated that after being struck he felt as if something had hit him in the throat. He then felt blood coming from his throat. He then ran upstairs, thinking someone was after him, and jumped out of the window.

Is the ground hard and cemented under the window? - It is not cemented.

What did you do after jumping out of the window? - I went back upstairs again and laid on the floor.

"All of this with your throat cut," remarked Mr. Lawless.

How did that big stake come beside you in the bedroom,, - I don't know, sir.

Don't you remember carrying it up? - I did not carry it up.

P.C. Luff was recalled, and in answer to Mr. Lawless said he examined the ground beneath the bedroom window, but he could find no marks there. There was no blood on the ground outside only the trail of blood where the deceased woman had run out of the house. There was not a double trail. The bottom part of the bedroom window was open and there were two or three spots of blood on the inside of the window ledge.

By Mr. Whiteley: There were also two or three spots of blood on the outside of the window ledge, but there were more on the inside.

There was no further evidence for the defence.

COUNSELS' ADDRESSES.

Mr. Lawless, in addressing the jury at considerable length, commented upon the prisoner's story that after being attacked in the cellar he rushed upstairs, jumped out of the window, and then went back upstairs again. The story, he said, was absurd. It seemed rather incredible for any person in good health, but when they remembered that this man had his throat cut it was quite incredible. This story built up by the prisoner was a very important one, but the probabilities were so much against it. It was utterly impossible for deceased to hang herself from a nail only 4ft, 10in. high. He impressed upon the jury that on this particular morning prisoner did not go to his work. There was a quarrel, and the little girl was sent off with the letter, which commenced "My last letter," and then went on to talk about the children in this manner, "I do hope the children gets looked after. Dear Edie always says her prayers now night and morning; I hope she don't have to go in no home." What other inference could they draw from this letter than that the prisoner contemplated this crime? With regard to the rope and the nail, and the story that deceased attempted to hang herself, it was absurd, and he submitted that all this had been carefully prepared by the accused man. The next significant thing was the wound in the throat. The doctor told them that it commenced on the right side of the neck, and that if deceased had been lefthanded and inflicted it with her left hand it would be impossible for her to cut her left shoulder. He (counsel) submitted that all the facts and evidence showed that the prisoner deliberately intended to murder his wife.

Mr. Whiteley made a long and eloquent appeal for the prisoner. He pointed out that the accused had given evidence on oath, and he was entitled to as much credence as any witness for the prosecution. They had to test the evidence he had given, and he invited them to test it. Happily there were many corroborations of his evidence. The deceased, he submitted, went down to the cellar with the deliberate intention of committing suicide, being sick of the life she had been living. What was the corroboration of the husband's evidence? When the police went down into the cellar they found the rope. It had been cleanly cut, obviously by a razor. Counsel submitted that this was a story of truth, because all these articles were found, corroborating the story that the deceased went down into the cellar to commit suicide. Furious at being baulked in her endeavours she attacked her husband when he went to stop her. The prosecution could not prove what happened in the cellar; they could only call circumstantial evidence. No one could tell what happened except the prisoner, and he asked the jury to accept his evidence as being the truth. Dwelling upon the statements which the accused had made in writing, Mr. Whiteley said if Fairbrother had murdered his wife why should he want to have written "Never have anything with that woman; she is a wicked woman?" As to the letter, in which he wrote, "My last day's work is done," prisoner had told them that this was only a joke or a saying between them, Counsel, concluding, said it was possible for the jury to make one of two mistakes - they might condemn an innocent man, or they might acquit one who was guilty. What he would ask with all the strength with which he was capable, was that the jury would hesitate, and hesitate long, before they found a man guilty on such evidence as had been called that day. He submitted that their verdict could only be one, and one only, and that "not guilty."

The Judge, in summing up, said the defence put forward was that the woman committed suicide. If she was tired of living with her husband she could have taken steps to make it possible for her to live apart from him, and in fact on the very day before she went to Dorking for the purpose of getting a separation order. Did that look like a woman who was going to leave the world at her own hands? Then what was the first utterance of the man? He wrote, "Razor in cellar; it is all through last Friday." When they examined the circumstances of the case there was nothing to show that the woman intended to commit suicide. Direct evidence against the man was absent, but there was strong circumstantial evidence. Did the man come before them now as a man who had been able to explain that which took place, and to show that the blame rested not with himself but with the woman? If so, they would have the pleasure of acquitting him; but if they found that the deed was committed by him then it would be their bounden duty to return a verdict against him.

JURY DELIBERATE SEVENTY MINUTES.

The jury then retired at 4.45 to consider their verdict, and were absent until 5.55. On their return the foreman announced that they were agreed, adding amid the most painful silence that prevailed: "We find the prisoner guilty, but strongly recommend him to mercy as we consider that the act was unpremeditated, and that in the past he received continuous and great provocation."

SENTENCED TO DEATH.

The Judge, having put on the black cap, told Fairbrother that the jury's recommendation would be forwarded to the proper quarter, and would be fully considered. He would advise him, however, not to depend upon that, but to make use of the short time left for him should that recommendation be disregarded. His Lordship wished to add that he was fully convinced that prisoner was the man who did the woman to death, and therefore it only remained for him to pass sentence.

Sentence of death was then passed in the usual way.

The condemned man, who remained calm and composed throughout, turned a trifle paler, and as the wardens approached him to take him below, he exclaimed: "I wish to appeal against it."

19th December 1908

SOURCE: The Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times & County Post, Saturday, December 19, 1908. (Page ?, col 6, top); The Surrey Mirror and County Post, Tuesday, December 22, 1908. (Page 3, col 7, middle).

THE WESTCOTT TRAGEDY

CONDEMNED MAN TO BE REPRIEVED

LETTER FROM FAIRBROTHER

The sentence of death passed on John James Fairbrother, at the Surrey Assizes, for the murder of his wife at Westcott on September 9th, has been respited.

The first intimation of the news which the condemned man's parents and relatives received was in a letter on Wednesday morning from the Home Secretary's Office, addressed to Mr. W. Potter, prisoner's brother-in-law, who resides at Brook Valley, Holmwood, and who has taken a leading part in furthering the petition for Fairbrother's reprieve. This letter was as follows :-

"With reference to the petition submitted by you on behalf of John James Fairbrother, who is lying under sentence of death in Wandsworth Prison, I am directed to acquaint you that the Secretary of State has felt warranted under all the circumstances in advising his Majesty to respite the capital sentence with a view to its commutation to penal servitude for life."

On Thursday morning, Fairbrother's parents, who reside at Mill Bottom, Holmwood, received a letter from their son in Wandsworth Prison, which also bore the following intimation in the writing of an official: "Respite of sentence was granted by the King yesterday until further notification of his Majesty's pleasure." The following is Fairbrother's letter, which was evidently written before the Home Secretary's decision was made known; we publish it as received, except that some parts which reflect on the evidence given by witnesses at the trial are withheld :-

"Dear Mother and Father, Sister and Brothers, - I now take pleasure in writing you a few lines, hoping to find you all in the best of health, as it is leaving me as well as you can expect. Hope the children is going on alright. As I am placed in this position I can not see them, and I don't know if ever I shall be able to see them any more or not, which I am very sorry to say, but very likely I may see them, as I am praying to God to let me be with them again, although I know they are well cared for and with good people as can bring them up respectable, and look after them, not turn them outdoors to run where they like and not know where they are, like they used to be . . . Dear Mother, Annie told me they are getting up a petition for me. I have not heard anything about it. I appealed against my sentence, but it was refused, so I have got to wait now to see what the Home Secretary says. I don't know how things is going to be yet. I expect I shall know this week, trusting to God to spare me . . . . .

After referring to the evidence given at his trial, Fairbrother continues:

"But me being unable to speak, I could not answer, so that this is what it has brought me to; but never mind, dear mother, father, and sister and brothers, also children, don't spoil your Christmas thinking of me; enjoy your Christmas, as I don't expect you will have much to give away; but make it as happy as you can and don't worry yourselves about me. If I get a reprieve, trusting to God to spare me, I may be able to be with you again. It is not what I have done that has got me here; it is the untruth that people spoke, of which they deserve punishment for it, but never mind, whatever comes now I must put up with it, as it is too late now. I have done my best, and I cannot do any more. I spoke the truth; that is all I can do. If I had told a lot of untruths I might not have been here, and I would not do that. . . . But never mind, I should not think they can rest contented; they must be thinking about it. But never mind, dear mother, father, sister, brothers, and also the children, get on the best you can, and don't worry about me, as you can't do me any good now, so it is no good putting yourselves out over me, as I am trusting to God to spare me. - From your dear loving son, John James Fairbrother."

The letter contains the following post-script :-

"Write back and let me know how you are all going on. . . . I think it is very kind of Walter and George getting up that petition. It may be a help for me; it shows the firm I worked for in London have not forgot me to start a petition for me. So good-bye, with love to all. Write soon. O death, where is they sting; O grave, where is thy victory; the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is law, but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory."

Since his sentence Fairbrother seems to have maintained a fairly cheerful mood, being evidently buoyed up with the hope, which he had entertained all along, that the Home Secretary would advise his Majesty to respite the capital sentence, for, in the words of a relative who visited him in Wandsworth Prison, on Monday last, "He seemed pretty cheerful and expected to get a reprieve."

Mr. W. Potter, Fairbrother's brother-in-law, asks us to convey the thanks of the family to those who took petitions, as well as to all who signed them, for their interest in the matter.

NOTE: Possible Duplicate with 22nd December article, The Surrey Mirror and County Post.

26th June 1909

SOURCE: The Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, Epsom District Times & County Post, Saturday, June 26, 1909. (Page, col 3, middle).

WESTCOTT TRAGEDY RECALLED

An action was brought by John Higgins, of Mill Bottom, Holmwood, to recover from Walter Wallis Potter a sum of £8 for funeral expenses paid by him, it being alleged that the amount mentioned had been received from a friendly society by the defendant. Mr. W. J. Down, who appeared in support of the claim, said this case recalled a rather sad tragedy, which occurred in the village of Westcott last September. A man named Fairbrother murdered his wife by cutting her throat, and immediately afterwards seriously cut his own throat. After remaining in the hospital, under arrest, for several weeks, he was committed for trial and sentenced to death, but the sentence was subsequently commuted to one of penal servitude for life. Fairbrother was a member of the Borough Hop Trade Friendly Society, which was a society formed for the purpose, among others, of paying the funeral expenses of a member or a member's wife. The plaintiff was the father of the murdered woman, and as such - he being the nearest and practically the only relative - made the necessary arrangements for the funeral. He paid for the cost of the same, namely, £7 17s. 6d., other expenses bringing the amount up to £8, a sum which was paid out by the society mentioned to Fairbrother's nominee, Potter. Had Fairbrother been a free man the expense of his wife's funeral would have fallen upon him, and he (Mr. Down) submitted that the defendant Potter could only have received the money for the purpose of applying it to the funeral. - The defendant said he went and saw Fairbrother, who is his brother-in-law, after he received the money, and asked him what to do with it. Fairbrother told him he was to take his expenses out of it, and keep the rest in trust for his (Fairbrother's) children. - His Honour: He did not say anything about the funeral expenses of his wife? - Defendant: No, sir. - His Honour nonsuited the plaintiff, holding that the money was not impressed with a trust in the hands of the defendant for the plaintiff to pay the expenses of the funeral.

Locations

People

John James Fairbrother

John James Fairbrother was born in Dorking , Surrey, in 1872 to John Fairbrother and Elizabeth Fairbrother (nee. Smith). He was the oldest of eight (known) children. He was baptised on 10th March 1872 in Holmwood. In 1891, John was working as an agricultural labourer. He married Emily Fairbrother (nee. Higgins) on 3rd April 1897. Sometime between 1897 and 1899 they moved to Bermondsey, where daughter Edith Emily (Edie) Fairbrother was born in 1899. In 1901, Sidney Fairbrother was born, but sadly died circa November 1902. Two other children (names unknown) also died young. In 1905, two more children (boys) were born. Their names are currently unknown. In 1908, John and Emily moved to Westcott and lived in St. John's Road. On September 9th 1908, John murdered Emily then attempted suicide, but survived. He was sentenced to death by hanging at Parkhurst Prison in November 1908. The sentence was commuted to life in prison by the Home Office on 25th November 1908. Details are currently unknown about his life after this, other than his death is recorded as 1940.

Emily Fairbrother (nee. Higgins)

Emily Higgins was born in Surrey, in 1877 to John Higgins and Mary Ann Higgins (nee. Sawyers). Emily was the middle of nine (known) children. Emily died on 9th September 1908, murdered by her husband, John James Fairbrother. She is buried at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Holmwood, Surrey.

Mary Hygate

The articles above refer to a Mrs. Mary Jane Hygate. However, a census search for 1911 show a Mary Ann Hygate living in St. John's-road, Westcott. She was 69 years old in 1911, and was born in 1842 in Warlingham, Surrey, and married to Henry Hygate, aged 64, a road labourer, born in Ilfield, Sussex in 1847. They were married in 1871. She died in the 4th quarter of 1919.

In the 1881 census, the following children are listed: William Tarrant (b. 1862, general labourer), Eliza Tarrant (b. 1869, scholar), Henry Hygate (b. 1871, scholar), Alfred Hygate (b. 1873, scholar), Albert Hygate (b. 1875, scholar), Frederick Hygate (b. 1878). At this census, the family lived at The Village, Godstone, Surrey.

In the 1891 census, the family lived at Dear Leap Cottage, Wotton, Dorking, Surrey. Additional to the children listed in the 1891 census were Leonard Hygate (b. 1883) and Mark Hygate (b. 1885). Eliza Tarrant was listed as a general servant. Albert and Alfred Hygte were listed as general labourers.

In the 1901 census, only Albert and Leonard are listed at the same address, now in St. John's-road, Westcott. Albert is an agricultural labourer. Leonard is a road labourer.

Nellie Ward

There was an Elizabeth Ward who lived in St. John's-road, Westcott in 1911. She was born in 1885, and was 26 years old in 1911. She married Arthur (James?) Ward in 1908, a labourer/bricklayer born in 1883 (28 in 1911). They had a daughter, Gurtrudge Ward, born in 1910.

Dr. Royston Fairbank

Frederick Royston Fairbank was born in 1851 in Yorkshire, and (at the time of the 1901 census) lived at The White House, Westcott. He was married to Dora Fairbank from Lincolnshire (b. 1856), and had a daughter, also called Dora C.E. Fairbank, born in 1884 in Doncaster.

P.C. John Luff

John Luff was born in 1880 in Barham, Suffolk, and was 28 years old at the time of the Westcott Tragedy. In the 1911 census he is listed as a Police Constable (Metro), living at 4 Fitzalan Street, Lambeth, married in 1908 to Elizabeth Agnes Luff (b. 1886, Summer Hill, Sydney), with a 1 year old daughter, Ruby Maud Luff.

P.C. James Lewis Steele