The Ullingswick Murder, Part Two: Local policing, forensics and the discovery of the body

Part Two of my series this week on a notorious 1862 murder. Catch up with part one here.

Victorian policeman, by Antony McCallum

Victorian policeman, by Antony McCallum

The next morning, a thatcher, William Weaver, who lived in Ullingswick with George Hope, William Hope’s brother, woke up at his usual time of 7am, to find it raining heavily. He went into the garden, and saw something lying in the meadow behind. He called to George, who walked with him up to the gate.

They saw that the object he had seen was the dead body of a young woman, sitting up against an apple tree. A black cloak had been thrown over her body, and the grass all around the body was trampled down.

It was Mary, and she was very obviously dead. Her face was covered in mud and blood, and there was a pool of blood under her, as though she was sitting on it. A pail full of turnips was resting nearby.

The men ran back to the house, and told George’s wife, before going to notify the local constable, Frederick Pugh. Pugh, together with other local men, went to carry Mary onto a cart. She was on her back now in the Waterside meadow, her bonnet still on but hanging back off her head.

Thomas Simpson, another constable who had been notified of William Hope’s suspicious behaviour the night before by Herbert Skerrett, took possession of the pail, and went out in search of the labourer.

He found him halfway up a pear tree nearby, shaking down fruit for his employer, a Mr Wood. Hope was promptly arrested, but Hope’s only comment was to say, “I will say nothing.”

However, on reaching the Prince of Wales inn, Hope admitted that it was his turnip pail that had been found by Mary’s body. He was then conveyed to the gaol at Bromyard.

In the meantime, a search of the local area found evidence of a struggle some 100 yards away from where the body had been discovered. It was halfway between the meadow and Mrs Bevan’s shop, which lay on the parish road that ran between Hereford and Bromyard.

Mud and material were fundamental in the case against Hope. Daniel Harwood, the superintendent of police at Bromyard, examined the ground where signs of a struggle had been spotted with Thomas Simpson. They found that there was an impression in the clay of a person lying on her back, with the marks of buttocks and the back of a head clearly visible.

Facing towards that shape were marks as though someone had been kneeling by her. The marks were made by ‘a peculiar sort of ribbed stuff’, and when impressions were made of the clay indentations, it looked as though the person kneeling had been wearing cord trousers where part of the material had been worn through.

When Hope’s trousers were seized, it was found that they were made of a twill ribbed cord, were worn, and very muddy around the knees. Patches on the trousers also matched marks in the mud.

This was not the first time such methods had been used in a criminal investigation: in a similar case in 1816, a Warwick farm labourer was convicted of murdering a servant after the impression of corduroy cloth with a sewn patch, found in damp earth at the crime scene, was matched to the suspect’s breeches. [S Kind and M Overman, ‘Science Against Crime’, New York, 1972, pp.12-13]


Memorial to Henry Graves Bull, MD, at Hereford Cathedral

Memorial to Henry Graves Bull, MD, at Hereford Cathedral

Surgeon Henry Graves Ball – who was also later a Hereford magistrate – conducted the post-mortem on Mary’s body, and found that she had died from being suffocated, two hands having squeezed her nose, mouth and throat.

However, she had also been raped ‘with very great violence’, and he was unsure whether she was raped before or after her death. Her face, body and clothes had all been bloody, indicating the level of violence with which she had been attacked.

He noted that Mary was a ‘healthy, well-developed young woman’, but that in death, the marks of fingernails around her mouth and jaw were clear. Her hands were clenched, and also noted that when he had later examined William Hope, Mary’s teeth marks were visible on Hope’s fingers, showing that Mary had tried to fight off her alleged attacker.

At the inquest, the jury ‘without hesitation’ returned a verdict of wilful murder, and William Hope was committed for trial at the next assizes.

Part 3 of the Ullingswick Murder: How the press reported Mary Corbett’s murder, will be published tomorrow.