« ForrigeFortsett »
THE MURDER OF ELIZABETH GARDNER IN THE CITY.
On Oct. 30, Samuel Gardner, a sweep, aged 38, and Elizabeth Humbler, a married woman, aged 10, were jointly charged at the Central Criminal Court upon an indictment, and also upon the Coroner's inquisition, for the murder of Elizabeth Gardner, the wife of the first-named prisoner. Public attention had been strongly directed to this case from the peculiar relationship in which the victim and the prisoners had been living together, from the apparent absence of any sufficient motive for the commission of the crime, and from the impossibility which was found to exist of obtaiuing any direct evidence as to the actual perpetrator of the deed.
From the preliminary investigations which had taken place before the coroner and the magistrates these facts had been elicited :—Gardner, with his wife and the woman Humbler, lived together at No. 5, Northumberland Alley, Fenchurch-street. Gardner in his domestic relations was a man of low and brutal character. He was married to his brother's widow; and though, according to our law, the marriage was not a legal one, yet both husband and wife regarded it as binding. The
match had proved a very wretched one. Gardner had seduced a maidof-all-work under his own roof, and then installed her in his own house as half servant, half mistress. Tbia continued for some time, but at last, owing to quarrels in the family, the girl left and married a man of the name of Humbler. Immediately afterhermarriage, however, she renewed her connection with Gardner, in a few weeks deserted her husband, and finally returned to her old position in her former master's house. Constant quarrels arose between Gardner and his wife on the subject of Humbler's return, and with tho coarse brutality not uncommon in a low rank of society, ill-natured neighbours were in the habit of irritating the unfortunate Mrs. Gardner by conslant allusions to the wretched circumstances of her life. Such, in brief, appeared to be the condition of this strange household in the month of September On Sunday night, the lUh of September, Mrs. Gardner was last seen in good health and apparently in her usual spirits. On the following morning, about 8 o'clock, she was found dead in her bedroom with her throat cut; the only other people who had passed the night in tbe house being her husband and Humbler. Under these circumstances suspicion naturally fell upon these two individuals, and after repeated and lengthened inquiries before the coroner and the police magistrates, Gardner and Humbler were fully committed for trial. Both were arraigned at the Central Criminal Court; but as the counsel for the prosecution stated in his opening address that he had only a very slight case against the female prisoner, and had no expectation of convicting her, it was suggested by the Judge (the Chief Baron) that iu> that case the proper course to be pursued would be to offer no evidence against her, but to take a verdict of Not Guilty as regarded her; iu which case she might, if necessary be called as a witness. The counsel at first hesitated to adopt this course, but as the Chief Baron, after retiring to consult other Judges upon the point, renewed the recommendation, and distinctly stated that the other Judges of the Court concurred with him in regarding it as the most proper course to pursue, the counsel yielded to the suggestion, and a verdict of Not Guilty was at once taken in the case of the woman, who was instantly removed from the bar. The trial of Gardner then proceeded. It is to be observed, that from the moment that the murder was discovered this man had endeavoured to fasten the crime upon Humbler. She did not retort by accusing him, nor did the evidence which she subsequently gave in the case tend to incriminate him more than that of other witnesses. Her own first thought was that Mrs. Gardner had committed suicide, and it will be seen that steps had been takeu
by the murderer to produce such an impression.
The facts of the case as they came out in evidence were these: Gardner, being a sweep — and necessarily obliged to pursue his avocations at a very early hour of the morning, was in the habit of being called by the police. On the morning of the 15th of September, a policeman roused him at a quarter past 3 o'clock; and between 4 and 5 o'clock saw him in the street, going to work, and carrying his soot-bag and machine. Other witnesses saw him in the street about the same time, and there was a general concurrence amongst them that he was absent from his house between the hours of 4 and 8 o'clock, when he returned. Oue witness deposed that on passing the prisoner's house about G o'clock, ho heard a scream repeated twice, which appeared to come from the front floor; but he could not say whether it was the scream of a child or a grown-up person.
The murder was discovered by tbe woman Humbler at about halfpast 7 o'clock, and a medical man was immediately sent for. "About 8 o'clock," said this gentleman, in his evidence, "Humbler came to me in an agitated state, and said that Mrs. Gardner had cut her throat. I went to the house immediately, and saw the body of the deceased lying on tho ground in the first-floor bedroom. She had nothing on but a flannel vest and a chemise. In my opinion she had been dead about four hours. The left hand was placed across the chest. The right hand was also across the chest, and contained a knife. I noticed at this time that thero was a sooty impression on the left elbow and left wrist, and that the latter was such as would be made by a finger-mark. I also saw that tho throat was cut, and that there was a pool of blood on both sides of the throat, but there was no blood below the collar bone. The wound was about two inches and a quarter in depth, and it was deepest near the shoulder on the left side. It could not have been inflicted by the deceased with her right hand. The prisoner carao into the room while I was there, and the first thing he said was, 'What is this?' and he immediately stooped down and took tho knife from the deceased's hand. The knife came out of the hand quite easily. If the deceased had died with the knife in her hand, the instrument would have been grasped or clutched tightly. The prisoner shortly afterwards looked towards the woman Humbler, and said, ' You wretch! you have done this!' She fell upon her knees, and called God to witness that she knew nothing about it. I observed at this time that there were a wedding ring, a brooch, a likeness, some valentines and some other letters unopened, and everything in the room was quite orderly. I saw no marks of blood on the woman Humbler, but I noticed that her hands were very dirty, and did not appear to have been washed for somo time. Some marks of blood were pointed out to me upon the wall of the room, which I am quite sure were not on the wail when I examined it on the morning of the murder. I examined the hands of the deceased, and found soveral cuts across the fingers of the left hand. There were two on (he middle finger, one of which had gone completely thrcugh the bone. These wounds appeared to roo to be such as would have been caused
by grasping a knife. There were several cuts on the right band, hot they were of a slight character. The backs of both hands were very bloody. On the inside of the right thigh there was the impress of the palm of a bloody hand, and pointing downwards. It was the mark of a full-sized hand, larger than my own. The deceased was a thin, spare woman. She was six or seven months gono in the family-way." Iu cross-examination the witness expressed a positive opinion (in which he was confirmed by another medical witness) that when ho saw the body at 8 o'clock it had been dead probably more than four hours, but not less than three.
Elizabeth Humbler having beta brought from the gaol, was now examined as a witness. She said . "I am the wife of John Humbler, and I ao 111 years old. I have known the prisoner since I was 11 years of age, and I used la live iu his house with the deceased. There was an intimacy betweee me and the prisoner of an improper kind ever since I was IS years old. My mother took sae away from the prisoner's bouse, and 12 months ago I married my present husband. I left nay husband, and went again to lira ia the prisoner's house. That was about three months before this occurrence happened. Mrs. Gardner was agreeable to my going to live there. I acted aa servant, and dad all there was to do. While I was living in the house on this ■aeond occasion, I renewed my intimacy with the prisoner. I did not know that I was going to leave on the Monday the affair happened till the prisoner told me so after the murder, and he had accused me of it. On the Sunday before toe murder I went to bed at 7 o'<
at night, and wished the deceased good night. I got up on the following morning at half-past 7, und between those hours I never left ray bedroom. I went to a room on the ground floor to light a fire, but I had only one lucifer match, and it did not seem to catch, and I went up to the deceased's bedroom to get some more matches, and saw her lying on the Boor. I had taken up the box of lucifers before I saw the body, and the moment I did so I dropped them on the ground. Soon after this Mr. Gardner came home. I had not seen him before on that morning. When I saw him come in, I 6aid, 'Good God! Sam, come up-stairs!' and when he saw his wife lying dead, he said to me, * You wretch! you have done this; if you don't move from here I will give you in charge.' When he said this I dropped on my knees, and said, 'Good God! show mercy down on my innocence.' Mrs. Gardner was in very good health when I saw her on Sunday, the 14th September. The police went into my room, and searched my clothes and everything I had. The prisoner said I should not stop in his house. I left, and never went back again; but I asked the prisoner to give me some money to enable me to go to my mother at Gravesend. He gave me three shillings." In cross-examination the witness said: "My usual time of going to bed was 0 or 10, but on this Sunday night I went to bed two hours earlier than usual on account of the prisoner being angry and illtempered with me. I did not go to bed immediately, but sat up for an hour, thinking of the sufferings that Mr. Garduer had caused me. 1 got up at my usual Monday morning, am
stairs with only my stockings on, and I found that I had trodden on blood. The deceased had received a good many letters, 6uch as valentines, before she died. She could not read or write." These valentines were subsequently shown to have been of a very offensive character, having reference to the connection that existed between the prisoner and Humbler. From the mass of evidence given by the police and the detective officers, it appeared that some days after the murder the prisoner very industriously directed their attention to marks of blood upon the sides of the bed, the walls of the staircaso, and the shutters of a down-stairs room, which he said had been opened by Humbler on the morning of the 15th. These marks they all swore (and upon this point their testimony was unhesitatingly supported by that of the medical witnesses) did not exist when they examined the house on the day of the murder. It further appeared that the prisoner had, from the first, rejected the idea that his wife had committed suicide—" she was too weak-nerved," he said, "for that;" and had persistently endeavoured to fasten the murder upon Humbler. In a deposition which, after due warning, he had made before the coroner, and which was now employed as evidence against him, he said, that "on the Sunday evening before hut wife died, the girl Humbler was annoying and insulting her, determined that she should ,^^_ i. Mlowiug day. He went to work on the Monday morning, and said that "he returned home about 8 o'clock, and then found that his wife was dead. The reason why lie charged Humbler with the murder was that he thought it probable that she had insulted his wife and quarrelled with her, after he left, and that this had led to the act." Such were the main facts adduced for the prosecution in this remarkable case.
The defence urged for the prisoner was based upon these grounds — 1st. That nothing had been proved to exclude the conclusion that the deceased had died by her own hand, as was probable from the unhappy life she had been leading, and from the letters and tokens of remembrance which were found near her; 2nd, That no adequate motive had been proved, or even suggested, that could induce the prisoner to murder his wife; and 3rd, That all the probabilities of the case, as developed in the trial, would lead to the conclusion, that if a murder had been committed at all, it must have been by the hand of Humbler. Some witnesses were called to speak of the prisoner's whereabout and occupation on the morning of the 15th September, but their evidence did not in the slightest degree affect any of the leading incidents of the case. Tho Judge then summed up, and the Jury retired to consider their verdict. After deliberating an hour and a half, they returned into Cmrt and gave a verdict of Guilty, but accompanied by a strong recommendation to mercy, on the ground that " tbey belicTed that, after the pi isoncr and his wife went to bed on the Sundiy, tbey bad had a quarrel about "the girl Humbler,
and that the act was committed in a fit of anger." The prisoner, on being asked in the usual form whether he had anything to aay why judgment of death should not be passed upon him, addressed the Court in a firm clear voice, and said: "I can safely declare, upon my word and honour, that I am as innocent of my wife's death as an unborn babe, or of knowing anything about it. Any man who could destroy the life of his wife with his own flesh and blood iu her body, hanging is too good for him. I swear, before God, that I am innoceut of this crime—it is not in my instinct to do soch a thing; I could not do it for the world. There is a greater J ad);-tban your lordship, who knows all. I fear Him more than any earthly judge, and I thank God I have no: got this crime to answer for."
The learned Judge, in passing sentence of death, said. " It would be difficult for anyone to come to the opinion that, upon the evidence, the jury bad not arrived at a right conclusion. He would take care that their recommendation to mercy should be forwarded to the proper quarter; but, taking infu consideration the nature of the crime, he did not feel himself jostified in holding out any expectation that it would have effect." Hereupon the prisoner again interposed, and said, "My lord. I should say tliat any man who was guilty of soch a crime as thi» ought to have no mercy." He w»» then removed from the bar, sti protesting his innocence.
I'pon a review of the very remarkable nature of this case, and of the peculiar circumstances attendant upon the trial and condemnation of tho prisoner, a stron.; f' cling was engendered in the pab