12 Days of Criminal Christmas: Tragedy and Illicit Love

Sarah Oldham was a 40 year old married woman, whose husband had abandoned her. She had found love again with a framework-knitter named Edmund Kesteven, a year her junior, and for four years, they had been living together at 7 Penn Street in Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

Sarah and Edmund's entry in the 1891 census

Sarah and Edmund’s entry in the 1891 census, from Ancestry

They were fairly comfortably off compared to many others in the area, but they were both known to like a drink.

They were last seen together late on Christmas Eve, when they were together at home. But just after midnight, Sarah Oldham ran to the back door of her neighbour John Dove’s house, dressed in her nightdress, which was covered in blood.

She stood for a moment; then walked through into the Dove family’s living room, sank down in a chair, then slid off it onto the hearthrug and died – all without saying a word.

It was only when the Doves looked down at Sarah on the floor did they realised that her throat had been cut.

Edmund Kesteven was duly charged with her murder, but the reporting of the case made sure to link Sarah’s horrific murder with the fact that she had been living with a man who was not her husband.

The Nottinghamshire Guardian sniffily reported:

“Christmas Day at Sutton in Ashfield was marked by the horrors of a heartless murder, the conclusion to a story of illicit love.”

But the conclusion was actually yet to come. Edmund Kesteven was hanged on 26 March 1895, punished for the drunken murder of his innocent partner.

Source: Nottinghamshire Guardian, 29 December 1894. A full account of the murder is in Geoff Sadler’s ‘Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in and Around Mansfield’.