Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Clouds of Witness Ch 7

“He is dead, and by my hand. It were better that I were dead myself, for the guilty wretch I am.”
Adventures of Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake is a fictional detective who appeared in many British comic strips and novels throughout the 20th century. He was described by Professor Jeffrey Richards on the BBC in The Radio Detectives in 2003 as "the poor man's Sherlock Holmes". Sexton Blake adventures appeared in a wide variety of British and international publications (in many languages) from 1893 to 1978, running to over 4,000 stories by some 200 different authors.

Blake was also the hero of numerous silent and sound films, radio serials and a 1960s ITV television series. Originally owned and published by Alfred Harmsworth, Blake's copyright transferred to the Harmsworth-owned Amalgamated Press and on to Fleetway Publications before residing with current owner IPC Media.

                Hour after hour Mr. Parker sat waiting for his friend's return. Again and again he went over the Riddlesdale Case, checking his notes here, amplifying them there, involving his tired brain in speculations of the most fantastic kind. He wandered about the room, taking down here and there a book from the shelves, strumming a few unskillful bars upon the piano, glancing through the weeklies, fidgeting restlessly. At length he selected a volume from the criminological section of the bookshelves, and forced himself to read with attention that most fascinating and dramatic of poison trials—the Seddon Case. Gradually the mystery gripped him, as it invariably did, and it was with a start of astonishment that he looked up at a long and vigorous whirring of the door-bell, to find that it was already long past midnight.

Frederick Henry Seddon (sometimes called Sedden) (1870 – 18 April 1912) was a British poisoner who was hanged in 1912 for murdering Eliza Mary Barrow.
In 1910 Seddon was a 40-year-old Superintendent of Collectors for a national insurance company. He and his wife, Margaret Ann, had five children. His father also lived with him. At one time Seddon had been a Freemason, being initiated into Liverpool's Stanley Lodge No. 1325 in 1901. He resigned a year later to move south. In 1905 he is named as a founding petitioner of Stephens Lodge No. 3089 at Bourne End, Buckinghamshire. He resigned from both Lodges in 1906.
In 1909, Seddon bought a fourteen-room house at 63 Tollington Park, near London's Finsbury Park area.He had an obsession with making money; he ran a second-hand clothes business in his wife's name and also speculated in real estate. At some stage he had the idea of duping money out of another person, so he and his wife advertised to let out the second floor of their London home. A near-neighbour, Eliza Mary Barrow, a 49 year-old eccentric spinster responded to this advertisement, moving in with her ward Ernest Grant, the ten-year-old nephew of her friend, on 26 July 1910. Previously she had shared lodgings with her cousin, Frank Vonderahe, but she hoped the new arrangement with Seddon would be cheaper.
Being easily led, and as keen on making money as Seddon was himself, Barrow was quickly persuaded by Seddon to sign over to him a controlling interest in all her savings and annuities, including £1,500 of India Stock, in return for which he would take care of her for the rest of her life, giving her a small annuity and allowing her to live in his home rent free. In August 1911, the Seddons, Barrow, and her young ward went on holiday together to Southend. On their return, Seddon's daughter Maggie was sent to buy a threepenny packet of flypaper from the local chemist. Shortly after, Barrow began to suffer from agonising stomach pains. The local doctor was called, who prescribed bismuth and morphine. On 9 September he visited her again, but by the following Monday her condition had deteriorated. However, she refused to go to hospital.
She improved slightly for a few days, but was confined to her bed where, on 13 September, she made a will, dictated to and executed by Seddon, and witnessed by his relatives. At 6:15 on the morning of 14 September, while being looked after by Mrs. Seddon, Barrow died. Seddon went to the doctor, who issued a death certificate without seeing the body, claiming that he was unable to attend due to overwork brought on by an epidemic current in the area at that time.
On September 15, Seddon went to the undertaker and arranged a cheap funeral, keeping the small commission for himself. Barrow's burial took place in a common burial plot, although her family had a vault in Islington. Seddon's later explanation for this was that Barrow's family had snubbed his daughter during an earlier visit and he was not prepared to allow his family to be treated in the same way again, and that if Barrow's family missed the funeral it might teach them better manners for the future. Immediately after the funeral the Seddon family left for Southend for a fortnight's holiday. Barrow's cousin, Frank Vonderahe, suspicious over the suddenness of the death and how quickly the funeral arrangements had been made, arrived to take over possession of her estate. However, Seddon informed him that nothing was left as he had paid the substantial funeral expenses and the cost of Ernest Grant's upkeep himself. The Vonderahe family then went to the police and voiced their suspicions. Barrow's body was exhumed on 15 November 1911, and an examination of it by Sir William Willicox, the senior Home Office specialist, and young pathologist Bernard Spilsbury, who had already made a name for himself in the Crippen case, discovered about two grains of arsenic
Seddon and his wife became the chief suspects in what was by now a murder inquiry. During their trial at the Old Bailey the prosecution, led by the Attorney General, Sir Rufus Issacs, proved that Margaret Seddon had previously bought a large amount of flypaper, which contained arsenic. The prosecution suggested that the poison used to kill Barrow had been obtained by soaking the flypaper in water. The renowned barrister Edward Marshall-Hall led for the defence. He strongly resisted all claims that Barrow had been poisoned, claiming instead that she had died by taking a medical preparation containing arsenic. Despite being advised against it by his Counsel, Seddon insisted on giving evidence in his own defence; it was claimed that he turned the jury against himself through his arrogant and condescending attitude. Certainly, his case was not helped by his ridiculous claim that Barrow might have drunk water from the dishes of flypaper that had been placed in her room to keep away the flies. Despite a fierce battle from the defence team the jury found him guilty. Margaret Seddon was acquitted of any involvement in the murder. Marshall Hall always maintained that Seddon would have been acquitted had he not insisted on giving evidence, and on at least one occasion used it as an example in warning a client of the risks of giving evidence in one's own defence.

A former Freemason, on being asked by the Clerk of the Court if he had anything to say as to why the sentence of death should not be passed against him, Seddon replied at length and appealed directly to the judge, Sir Thomas Townsend Bucknill, as a brother Mason and in the name of 'The Great Architect Of The Universe' to overturn the jury’s guilty verdict. According to some sources he gave the First Degree sign, according to others the Sign of Grief and Distress, begging for mercy. The judge, Mr Justice Bucknill, himself a prominent Freemason, is reported as having said, with some emotion:

    "It is not for me to harrow your feelings – try to make peace with your Maker. We both belong to the same Brotherhood, and though that can have no influence with me this is painful beyond words to have to say what I am saying, but our Brotherhood does not encourage crime, it condemns it."

Seddon being sentenced to death by Mr Justice Bucknill

Seddon replied that he had already made his peace with his Maker. Mr Justice Bucknill then pronounced the sentence of death. Bernard Spilsbury, who went on to become a famous pathologist and who gave evidence during the trial, was not yet involved in Freemasonry, and so the meaning of what had passed between Seddon and Bucknill was lost on him at the time. However, his colleagues who also provided forensic evidence were Masons, and they were aware of its significance.

Seddon was hanged by John Ellis and Thomas Pierrepoint at Pentonville Prison on 18 April 1912.

                His first thought was that Wimsey must have left his latchkey behind, and he was preparing a facetious greeting when the door opened—exactly as in the beginning of a Sherlock Holmes story—to admit a tall and beautiful young woman, in an extreme state of nervous agitation, with halo of golden hair, violet-blue eyes, and disordered apparel all complete; for as she threw back her heavy travelling-coat he observed that she wore evening dress, with light green silk stockings and heavy brogue shoes thickly covered with mud.
                “His lordship has not yet returned, my lady,” said Mr. Bunter, “but Mr. Parker is here waiting for him, and we are expecting him at any minute now. Will your ladyship take anything?”
                “No, no,” said the vision hastily, “nothing, thanks. I'll wait. Good evening, Mr. Parker. Where's Peter?”
                “He has been called out, Lady Mary,” said Parker. “I can't think why he isn't back yet. Do sit down.”
                “Where did he go?”
                “To Scotland Yard—but that was about six o'clock. I can't imagine——”
                Lady Mary made a gesture of despair.
                “I knew it. Oh, Mr. Parker, what am I to do?”
                Mr. Parker was speechless.
                “I must see Peter,” cried Lady Mary. “It's a matter of life and death. Can't you send for him?”
                “But I don't know where he is,” said Parker. “Please, Lady Mary——”
                “He's doing something dreadful—he's all wrong,” cried the young woman, wringing her hands with desperate vehemence. “I must see him—tell him——Oh! did anybody ever get into such dreadful trouble! I—oh!—--”
                Here the lady laughed loudly and burst into tears.
                “Lady Mary—I beg you—please don't,” cried Mr. Parker anxiously, with a strong feeling that he was being incompetent and rather ridiculous. “Please sit down. Drink a glass of wine. You'll be ill if you cry like that. If it is crying,” he added dubiously to himself. “It sounds like hiccups. Bunter!”
                Mr. Bunter was not far off. In fact, he was just outside the door with a small tray. With a respectful “Allow me, sir,” he stepped forward to the writhing Lady Mary and presented a small phial to her nose. The effect was startling. The patient gave two or three fearful whoops, and sat up, erect and furious.
                “How dare you, Bunter!” said Lady Mary. “Go away at once!”
                “Your ladyship had better take a drop of brandy,” said Mr. Bunter, replacing the stopper in the smelling-bottle, but not before Parker had caught the pungent reek of ammonia. “This is the 1800 Napoleon brandy, my lady. Please don't snort so, if I may make the suggestion. His lordship would be greatly distressed to think that any of it should be wasted. Did your ladyship dine on the way up? No? Most unwise, my lady, to undertake a long journey on a vacant interior. I will take the liberty of sending in an omelette for your ladyship. Perhaps you would like a little snack of something yourself, sir, as it is getting late?”
                “Anything you like,” said Mr. Parker, waving him off hurriedly. “Now, Lady Mary, you're feeling better, aren't you? Let me help you off with your coat.”

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