The tragic death of a toddler in 1930, and a questionable accusation of murder
In about 1926 my grandmother Annie Whitehead booked for herself and her three children Arthur, Margaret, and Grace, to go to Herne Bay by Lewis’s charabanc. The family stayed at a boarding house that was owned by Charlotte Mellor, a lady who had no husband to support her. [Charlotte referred to herself as a widow, but I have found no evidence that she ever married]. My mother Margaret always called Charlotte ‘Aunt Tot’. She had a daughter one year younger than my mother, whose name was also Margaret. The Whiteheads were always given a warm welcome, and my grandmother Annie and Charlotte became a great friends.
One day Annie took the four young children to the beach. My mother was wearing a white broderie Anglaise dress, a bright red blazer with white piping around the edge, and a white straw hat with a bunch of white ribbons at the front and around the crown. She had a little wooden boat on a string and she walked out on the jetty that pleasure trippers used to prevent their feet getting wet when boarding a boat. It wasn’t far out to sea but the water here was deep enough to drown a child. There were other children playing on the jetty with their own toy boats, so the four children joined in alongside them. Annie sat on the beach with Margaret Mellor in her pram, anxiously watching the children playing. There was no safety barrier on the jetty. My mother dangled her little boat on the end of its string until it reached the water. It floated and bobbed about and was gradually swept by the current under the jetty. The family never knew whether she leaned forward too far, or whether a young boy who passed by accidentally knocked her into the sea.
My grandmother suddenly saw my mother’s little red blazer floating in the sea. She frantically shouted for help. A man took off his jacket and swam out to save her. Annie wrapped her in the pram blanket, and put her in the pram with Grace and Margaret Mellor, while her brother Arthur had to run along at the side of the pram. The children were taken back to the boarding house as quickly as possible. My mother remembers having a warm bath in the zinc bath in front of the fire, and saying to my grandmother, “Have I swallowed any fishes?” Annie was extremely grateful to the stranger who had saved her daughter, but in the excitement, she forgot to ask the hero for his name and address. She wrote a letter to a newspaper thanking him, but she never had any response.
My grandmother returned to Herne Bay for quite a few holidays, while her husband Harry and son Arthur went to visit relatives in North Aston. Annie always included Margaret Mellor in holiday activities with her daughters. My mother even had one holiday on her own with Charlotte (Aunt Tot) and her daughter Margaret.
Aunt Tot had taken over some new premises, and had not yet decorated. My mother remembered the kitchen walls were smothered in Golden Shred Marmalade golliwogs. One year the Whiteheads went to Ramsgate together with Aunt Tot and Margaret.
By the end of 1930 Charlotte Mellor (Aunt Tot) had become a foster mother to four small children, including a little boy named Percy Page. Percy was born on 3rd June 1929. His mother was an unmarried domestic servant, who came from Holt in Norfolk. Without a birth certificate, it is not clear where Percy was born, but he was certainly at St Stephen’s Hospital, Fulham on 26th Jun 1929, at three weeks old, when he was fostered by Minnie Kate Walker of West Street, Faversham, Kent. St Stephen’s Hospital was next to the Fulham Road Workhouse, which was renamed the ‘Public Assistance Institution’ on being taken over by London County Council in 1930. It seems likely that Percy’s mother was an inmate of the workhouse, and this was the reason why Percy was born here. Unfortunately, as the workhouse books are locked for 100 years, and the last available is 1921, I am unable to use them to identify Percy.
Percy may not have been the baby’s birth name, as some accounts name him George. I have not found a Fulham or Holt birth registration in the name Percy, and I have only found two illegitimate births for a baby named George in Fulham, of which only one, George Sidney Foulser Bradfield, was registered in the second quarter of the year. This child appears to have been registered as George Sidney Foulser too, so I don’t think this is Percy.
Percy remained with Minnie for ten months. In March 1930 there was an advert in the Kentish Express advertising a child for adoption. This may well have been Percy. The Kentish Express has not been digitised, but the Kent History and Library Centre holds copies of the Kentish Express for 1930, so the advert may eventually come to light.
On Easter Saturday, 19th April 1930, Minnie handed Percy over to Charlotte Mellor. Almost eight months later, on 12th December 1930, Charlotte noticed that Percy was lying back in his chair and that his eyes were rolling. She gave him brandy and milk and bathed his face, but by the time she had taken him to Dr Malcolm Foster’s surgery, he had died. Dr Foster called for the police. According to police evidence, when Police Sergeant Conway arrived at the doctor’s surgery he found Percy lying dead on the sofa.
Later that day Charlotte made a voluntary statement to the police:
I am a widow, and a registered foster mother. I am a boarding house keeper, and I reside at Farimont, Beltinge Road, Herne Bay. Just before Easter this year, I saw an advert in the Kentish Express, which was advertising a child for adoption, and I eventually arranged with the mother to adopt the boy, the mother agreeing to give up all claim. The reason I wanted to adopt the boy was to be a companion to my little girl, aged five years. I have a small income, which is derived from a business interest with my cousin, and also from paying guests at my residence, which is a boarding bouse. 1 have three more children living my house, of which I am foster mother, ages 13 months, 14 months, and five months. The eldest I took about July last, the second in August last, and the five months’ old one three weeks ago. Miss Pearson, of Old Romney, Kent, has been helping me look after the children, but she left my employ on December 8th 1930, since when I have been looking after them myself. At present I am advertising for another maid. I took these children as a paying proposition to help me through the winter, as I have had no paying guests in my house since last September. My husband died about five years ago, and he was in the leather trade.
The bruises which you see on the child’s body, I attribute to him falling about. I have occasionally smacked him with my open hand. I didn’t smack him on the morning of his death.
On the 11th inst. the child was alright, and went to bed about 6.30 pm. About 9.30 pm I lifted him out in the ordinary course, and after being placed in his bed, he slept throughout the night until 7.30 am on the 12th inst. For breakfast, about 8 am. He had porridge and milk. He was not sick, and I put him to bed again. About 11 am I brought him down to the sitting room, and put him into his chair. He then seemed as usual. I then went on cooking the dinner. I then went back to the sitting room, and I noticed that the boy was lying back in his chair and that his eyes were rolling. I gave him a few drops of brandy, and bathed his face, and finding that he was cold, I tried to give him a little warm milk. I carried him to Doctor Foster’s, where it was found that he was dead. I have not yet received the legal adoption papers, but I have signed them.
Charlotte was formally charged at Herne Bay police station. Detective Sergeant Kitchingham asked her whether she had anything to say. “Nothing to say, only that I didn’t,” she replied.
On December 17th, five days after Percy’s death, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the notorious pathologist for the Home Office, made a post mortem examination. Sir Bernard was an early proponent of forensic pathology, but it should be noted that Spilsbury’s reputation was under scrutiny at this time. He was somewhat of a divo, and was described by Sir Sydney Smith as “fallible… and very, very obstinate”. [The Wellcome library has a collection of Spilsbury’s notes from this period which may include this case.]
On the afternoon of Monday 22nd December 1930, the inquest was held by Mr Rutley Mowll, Coroner for East Kent, at the Council Chamber, Herne Bay. Sir Bernard Spilsbury said that there were bruises on almost every part of the child’s, head, limbs and body. There was a big bruise on the top of the head. There was no disease in the brain or elsewhere to account for death, which in his opinion, was due to violence. The injury would result in immediate unconsciousness and death, either a few minutes later or within a few hours. He agreed that some of the bruises might have been caused by the child falling about, but certainly not the bruise on top of the head, which was the cause of death by coma and haemorrhage of the brain. He did not consider that any child of 18 months should be caned. The injury was not caused by the hand, but by some object, or it might have been caused by fall from great height. He was quoted as saying:
“I have very rarely met with such numerous injuries on the body of a young child, except in cases where there has been great violence employed.”
He concluded that death was due to coma, caused by meningeal haemorrhage, which was not caused by the hand, but could only have been caused by a severe blow by some object, or fall upon the head from a great height.
Nina Lancers Pearson, who was born in 1916 and was aged fourteen, of Sycamore Farm, Old Romney, (later Old Kent Road, London), gave evidence at the inquest. It would later become clear that Nina had a recent grudge against Charlotte, and her testimony was therefore unreliable.
Nina said that she was employed by Charlotte to look after the children until December 8th, four days before Percy died. She claimed that Charlotte caned and smacked Percy every day because he was dirty. When Percy did not say “Ta”, she took him by the shoulders and shook him onto a chair or the sofa. She said that Charlotte struck Percy in the face occasionally, and told Nina that he was a very obstinate child. Nina said that Charlotte put the child in a bowl of cold water at night, and kept him sitting there for about a minute because of his dirty habits. Nina said she herself (Nina) had on occasions slapped the child, on orders from Charlotte. She said that Mrs Mellor had struck her with her open hand when she refused to light fires on December 8th. Finally, Nina alleged that Charlotte once said, “I shall finish it one day in my temper.”
This was completely at odds with my mother Margaret’s memory of Aunt Tot. She said that Aunt Tot was always kind. It is hard to imagine that Annie would have sent Margaret to stay with Aunt Tot alone if she had any doubts as to her safety.
It seems that the Coroner, too, had his doubts about Nina’s testimony. He advised the jury to exercise great care and consideration before they thought of returning a verdict of murder, and particularly advised them not to place too much stress on Charlotte’s alleged statement to Nina, that she would “do it in”, particularly in view of the fact that there was no reason to believe that she had received any payment for the child, which was well nourished. If they came to the conclusion that the child had been punished unduly, it would be tantamount to manslaughter.
Charlotte did not give evidence.
That night a verdict of manslaughter was returned by the Jury, and Charlotte was committed for trial at the next Kent Assizes on the Coroner’s warrant. Police Superintendent Goldsmith expressed his intention of arresting Charlotte, and the Coroner asked if she could not have bail. Superintendent Goldsmith said, “We have a certain duty to perform”. The Coroner replied, “Well, I make an order for her to be given bail, herself and another surety of £50 each. What you do afterwards will be your responsibility. I not going to have the responsibility of keeping this woman in prison until the proceedings in another court are finished.” Superintendent Goldsmith said that in that case, Charlotte would have to appear before the magistrates today. “Very well,” said the Coroner.
At 5.45 pm the same afternoon Detective Sergeant Kitchingham cautioned Charlotte and charged her with manslaughter. She made no reply. He then conveyed her to Herne Bay Police Station, where he again cautioned and charged her. She replied, “Nothing to say, only that I didn’t.” Charlotte was duly taken into custody on the charge of manslaughter, and spent the following week on remand at Holloway Gaol.
On Tuesday 30th December 1930 Charlotte made a brief appearance before the Honourable Mrs Hardcastle at a Court held at the office of the Magistrates’ Clerk, Watling Street, Canterbury. She was accompanied to Court by two wardresses, and was allowed to be seated during the short proceedings. Inspector Rivers stated that he was instructed by the Public Prosecutor to ask for a remand until January 8th, as the Public Prosecutor was taking up the case. The Inspector did not propose to offer any further evidence that morning. He asked that the hearing on January 8th might be at the Sessions House, Longport, Canterbury. The application was granted and Charlotte was again remanded in custody.
On 8th January 1931 case resumed at a Special Police Court at the Sessions House. In spite of the advice given by the Coroner to keep the charge to manslaughter, the police substituted the manslaughter charge with the capital charge of murder. We do not know whether Margaret’s mother Annie Whitehead attended this Court. The proceedings were reported at length in the Whitstable Times. The following transcript is as reported, except that for clarity, I have added the names of those speaking or referred to simply as ‘witness’ or ‘Prisoner’.
The public gallery was crowded, and the Justices present were Mr G K Anderson in the chair, the Honourable Mrs Hardcastle, and Mr G Blaiklock. When the Magistrates’ Clerk, Mr N H Wightwick, called “Charlotte Mellor”, prisoner came into Court between two wardresses. She looked pale, and one of the wardresses was holding her by the arm. Prisoner was wearing a dark blue coat with fur collar and cuffs and a black hat, and she carried a small brown paper packet. She was given seat in the dock and a wardress sat beside her. Throughout the proceedings, which lasted nearly three hours, prisoner looked on the floor of the dock, and occasionally sipped from glass of water. While the magistrates were deliberating at the close of the evidence, prisoner wept.
Mr G J Ball, from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, prosecuted, and Mr C A Gardner appeared for prisoner. Before evidence was taken, Mr Gardner made application for a certificate of legal aid for prisoner the grounds of the gravity of the charge and the poorness of the accused. Mr Gardner was originally instructed by prisoner to appear for her at the inquest, and that was how he came into the matter. The Chairman, Mr Anderson, said the certificate would be granted and that Mr Gardner would appointed solicitor to the accused.
Police Sergeant Conway (Herne Bay) said that on Friday, December 12th, in consequence of a communication made to him, he visited Dr Foster’s surgery in Beltinge Road, Herne Bay, and there he saw the body of the deceased child, Percy Page, Dr Foster, and the accused. In her presence Dr Foster told witness that at 1.15 pm that day, Mrs Mellor, of Fairmont, Beltinge Road, Herne Bay, had taken the child to his surgery, and that upon examining the child, he found it was dead. He (Sergeant Conway) examined the child and saw bruises on the body. He asked accused how she accounted for the bruises, and she replied that the child was always falling about.
Mr Ball: Did she tell you the child’s name?
Sergeant Conway: She told me the child’s name was Percy Page.
Mr Ball: You need not mention the mother’s name.
Sergeant Conway: She told me he was the child of an unmarried domestic servant.
Mr Gardner: I am not sure this is in order. This is a statement made to this officer not as a police officer, but as Coroner’s officer as I understand, and, therefore, quite rightly as far as he was concerned, as a Coroner’s officer she was not warned. How, therefore, he can put in evidence what I presume he is going to say, except at the inquest, I do not know.
Mr Ball: I am coming to that. You will have an opportunity presently.
Sergeant Conway, continuing, said he took the child to the mortuary, and was present at the post mortem examination made by Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Witness produced the certificate of adoption in respect of the child, and said that at 3.30 pm the same day he saw accused at the Police Station. He was acting as Coroner’s Officer and accused knew who he was.
Mr Ball: Did you caution her?
Sergeant Conway: No.
Mr Ball: Did she make a voluntary statement?
Sergeant Conway: Yes.
Mr Ball: Was that statement taken down in writing?
Sergeant Conway: Yes.
Mr Ball: And signed by her?
Sergeant Conway: No.
Mr Ball: I propose to read that statement in evidence as a voluntary statement.
Mr Gardner said he had no real objection, except on principle.
Mr Ball: It is only what was said the inquest.
The The Chairman, Mr Anderson, said he was advised the statement was made a voluntary way and probably without any sort of caution but the circumstances he was advised it was admissible.
Mr Gardner: I have no objection because it gives her story.
The statement was read. [This was Charlotte’s voluntary police statement, already recorded above].
The Chairman: This child was taken, from your statement, as an adopted child?
Sergeant Conway: Yes.
The Chairman: Did she say whether there was any money passing by virtue of the adoption?
Sergeant Conway: Previous to that, sir.
Minnie Kate Walker, West Street, Faversham, stated that on June 26th 1929, she received Percy Page from St Stephen’s Hospital, Fulham. He was then three weeks old, and he was under her care for ten months, and on Easter Saturday she handed him over to the accused. Minnie next saw him on his birthday, June 3rd, and again on July 3rd and 12th.
Mr Ball: Did you notice anything about him at all?
Minnie: That he cried every time he was spoken to by a stranger.
Mr Ball: At which visit did you notice that?
Minnie: The first time, and I went home very much upset.
Mr Ball: In consequence of what you noticed with the child, did you make any complaint about it?
Continuing, Minnie said that on July 17th she went to Herne Bay to stay with the accused because she [Charlotte] had no girl [housemaid]. She went to help her and to see how the baby was treated.
Mr Ball: That does not matter.
Mr Gardner: I want that in the depositions.
The Magistrates’ Clerk: You want that down?
Mr Gardner: Yes, it shows the motive for her going.
Mr Ball (to Minnie): During that visit, did you notice anything?
Minnie: I noticed he was not properly treated in lots of ways.
Mr Ball: What ways?
Minnie: In being fed, and also by being kept upstairs so long in his cot.
Mr Ball: Did you notice his being struck or anything of that description?
Minnie: I only noticed she struck him once with her hand, and I called her a spiteful, cruel thing.
Mr Ball: As a result of your visit, you were dissatisfied with the way that he was being treated?
Mr Gardner: You went to stay with Mrs Mellor in what capacity?
Minnie: I went down there to help her because she had a lot of visitors and three babies.
Mr Gardner: Are you saying she had three babies in July?
Minnie: Before I left. Two days before I left she fetched the other.
Mr Gardner: Did she take the third baby because she had your help?
Minnie: No, she said she was going to get a girl.
Mr Gardner: This was the 17th July?
Mr Gardner: Did you receive any wages?
Mr Gardner: I suppose you did not pay. You were kept?
Minnie: I did not pay. I just had my food.
The Magistrates’ Clerk: You had your board and lodgings?
Mr Gardner: How many days did you stay?
Minnie: Three weeks and three days.
Mr Gardner: Till about August 10th?
Minnie: August 9th.
Mr Gardner: Did you want to have this child back?
Minnie: Yes, I wanted to have him back.
Mr Gardner: Did you ask for it to be handed back to you?
Minnie: Yes, I begged of Mrs Mellor to let me have the baby back on August 8th.
Mr Gardner: Did she refuse?
Minnie: She refused.
Mr Gardner: Did she give a reason for her refusal?
Minnie: Because for the reason that the mother had handed the baby over to her, and she said it was hers to do as she liked with.
Mr Gardner: I suggest she gave you another reason. Listen to this. Did she say, “I have got this child into clean habits, which you did not, and I am not going to give it back to you”?
Mr Gardner: She did not say that?
Minnie: No. She did not say that.
To further questions, witness said there was a Mrs Liddle present at the interview when she (Minnie) asked for the baby to be handed back. After Mrs Mellor had refused, she said, “If Mrs Mellor is kinder to the baby, will you let it stop and blow over?”
Mr Gardner: Was Mrs Whitehead there?
Mr Gardner: Not in August?
[This is the only reference to my grandmother Annie, in all the reports of the case.]
Answering other questions, Minnie said she wrote to Charlotte and asked her what were the most reasonable terms she could take witness’s daughter, son-in-law, and two children [to stay at the boarding house].
Minnie’s grandchildren were Margery, age five, and Daphne, age one.
The Chairman: They were going down as lodgers, I suppose?
Minnie: Yes, sir, after her visitors had gone. She said her visitors would have gone at the end of September.
Mr Gardner: This is the same woman you think has acted cruelly, to whom you were gong to send your daughter, her husband, and two children?
Minnie: But she was not going to do anything in any way, but I was going to send them down to see how she was treating the child.
Mr Gardner: Another spy exactly?
Minnie: Not another spy exactly.
Mrs Walker: While you were there, did any official visitors like Infant Life Protection Officers come?
Minnie: No sir.
Mrs Walker: I think you wrote and told the Health Visitor she ought to come down?
Minnie: Yes, I did tell her.
Mrs Walker: And in consequence of that do you know whether she did come?
Minnie: Yes sir, she did come. Dr Simpson, from Maidstone.
Mrs Walker: A lady doctor?
Minnie: Yes, a lady doctor.
Mrs Walker: I suppose you got a report from her?
Minnie: No, I did not get a report.
Mrs Walker: Did you speak to her or see her?
Minnie: I did speak to her.
Mrs Walker: You still say you did not get a report from the lady doctor?
Minnie: No, sir.
Mrs Walker: You spoke to her?
Minnie: I spoke to her about the way Mrs Mellor was treating the baby, and she also threatened him with several canings, and that she would knock his little face.
Mrs Walker: Did the lady doctor tell you that?
Minnie: No, I told the lady doctor that.
Mrs Walker: Do you still say you had no report from the lady doctor about the condition of this child?
Minnie: No, sir.
Mrs Walker: We will leave it at that. Did the lady doctor tell you she was satisfied with the condition of this child?
Minnie: I do not know anything about that.
Mrs Walker: I thought you said you saw her after she had visited it?
Minnie: No, not after.
Mrs Walker: Do you remember the day you took this child to Mrs Mellor’s?
Minnie: Yes, sir.
Mrs Walker: Did it then have sores on its face?
Minnie: It had three spots on its face, and they were teething spots.
In further questions, witness denied that the child had a teat in its mouth, but it had one hanging round its neck.
Mr Gardner: Were you annoyed with Mrs Mellor because she took it away?
Mr Gardner: Did she take it away?
Minnie: She did take it away.
Mr Gardner: When you stayed at the house in July and August, was the condition of the child better physically than it was when you gave it up at Easter?
Minnie: Not much.
Mr Gardner: It was better?
Minnie: It was a little better. It was 18 lbs when I handed it over to Mrs Mellor, and she said it weighed 20¼ lbs on June 30th.
To the other questions, witness said apart from scratches on the forehead, there was nothing wrong with the child on August 9th. Answering the Chairman, Mr Anderson, Minnie said she first went to the accused’s house because it was the child’s birthday, and Mrs Mellor had told her she could go whenever she liked. Minnie told Mr Gardner that the child’s nose bled twice while in her care, and the doctor said it was due to teething. She asked Mrs Mellor if the nose still bled, and she said it did not.
Nina Lancers Pearson (14), Old Kent Road, London, a domestic servant, said she worked for Charlotte from the end of September to December 8th. Mrs Mellor treated the child harshly, and witness had seen her cane the boy if he was dirty, or if he did not say “Ta” when she gave him something. She caned the boy almost every day. On one occasion she (witness) complained to accused on the way she treated the child.
Mr Ball: You complained about the way she was treating the boy. What did you say?
Nina: I asked what a certain bruise was caused by.
The Chairman: Do you remember when it was?
Nina: About three weeks after I was there.
Mr Ball: What did she say? —
Nina: She said she pushed the child and it had fallen over piece of bead frame.
Mr Ball: Why did you leave?
Nina: Because we had a few words together and that was why I left.
Mr Ball: Anything more than few words?
Nina: Because she hit me, sir.
The Chairman: When was that?
Nina: The day I left.
Mr Ball: December 8th. Was there anything else you saw Mrs Mellor do towards the child?
Nina: She used get it by the shoulders and either shake it on a chair or on a sofa and make it say “Ta”.
Mr Ball: Anything else did you notice?
Nina: She used to hit it across the face whenever it was not clean or did not do what it was told.
Mr Ball: Anything else? There were other children there were there not?
Mr Ball: How did she treat the other children ?
Nina: Not so severely as this one.
Mr Ball: Was there any reason why she should have treated this child this way?
Nina: She said it was an obstinate child and not like the others.
Mr Ball: It was quite a healthy child was it not?
Mr Ball: Was it able to walk?
Nina: Yes, sir.
Mr Ball: Did you ever notice anything wrong with it beyond these bruises?
Nina: I always thought it looked white, sir.
Mr Ball: Apart from that it was quite an ordinary child?
Nina: Yes, sir.
Mr Ball: You say Mrs Mellor treated the child more harshly than the others?
Nina: Yes, sir.
Mr Ball: Did she ever threaten the child?
Mr Ball: What did she say?
Nina: She said, “I shall finish it one day in my temper”.
Mr Gardner: Was this child of clean habits?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: Did it differ from the other children in this way?
Nina: Yes, sir.
Mr Gardner: It therefore required different treatment?
Nina: Yes, sir.
Mr Gardner: In walking about, did the child fall?
Nina: Sometimes, sir.
Mr Gardner: Did the child make sudden rushes when it wanted something or saw something?
Nina: Yes, sir.
Mr Gardner: In that way he was not so quiet as the other children?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: If it was on the floor did it suddenly jump into an upright position?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: You did not see that?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: You said the child was white; was it flabby?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: While you were there, did the Infant Life Protection Officer, Mr Best, come to see it ?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: Did Dr Simpson?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: Did you take the children out?
Nina: Yes, sir.
Mr Gardner: Where did you take them to?
Nina: Along the Sea Front at Herne Bay.
Mr Gardner: Ever take this child to the cinema?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: Was the child in a perambulator when it went out?
Nina: Yes, sir.
Mr Gardner: Did you ever knock the child out of the perambulator?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: Did you ever see bruises on the head of this child?
Nina: No, sir.
Mr Gardner: The only ones you saw were on the lower part of the body?
Nina: On the cheek.
Mr Gardner: That was the bruise you spoke of, was it ?
Mr Gardner: I understand you left on very bad terms with Mrs Mellor.
Nina: Yes, sir.
Sir Bernard Spilsbury, honourable pathologist to the Home Office, stated that on December 17th he made a post mortem examination on the body Percy Page, in the presence Doctors Foster, Cozens, and Hammerton.
Mr Ball: Can you tell us what was the cause of death?
Sir Bernard: Yes, sir; it was coma, or unconsciousness, due to haemorrhage round the brain, what is known as meningeal haemorrhage.
Mr Ball: What you think caused the injury?
Sir Bernard: Some form of violence.
Mr Ball: Do you think it could have been an accidental injury?
Sir Bernard: Only under certain specified conditions, such as a fall from a height on to the top the head.
Mr G Blacklock: Was there any mark on any part of the head of violence?
Sir Bernard: There were several in fact.
Continuing, Sir Bernard said that the body was well nourished. Its height was 30 inches, and weight 20 lbs. He found a number of bruises on the surface, and others were found only when the skin was cut. There was no injury to the surface of the body other than bruises – no wounds of any kind. On the head there was circular area of bruising at the back of the head, measuring 2½ inches across. It was partly recent and partly old. There was recent bruise, measuring 2 inches by 1¼ inches, on the left side of the top of the head, and several small bruises on the forehead and temples. Some were recent and some older. There was an old bruise on the outer side of the right eye, and a recent bruise, about 1 inch in size, on the left cheek; two small bruises, not very recent, below the chin, and another more recent below the right jaw. There were tiny bruises on the front of the left chest, and a few small bruises on the back over the left shoulder blade. These three were recent. There was a recent bruise, measuring 3 inches by 2½ inches on the right buttock, and a similar one on the left buttock, 3½ inches by 3 inches. There was a large bruise on the outer side of the right upper and forearm, which was 4 inches long and 1½ inches across. It was not a recent bruise, and was fading. There were small recent bruises on the upper side of the right wrist, and a tiny bruise on the knuckle of the right middle finger. There was an area of faint bruising on the front of the left shoulder, and another on the outer side of the shoulder. There was large bruise on the outer side of the left upper and forearm, extending over the back of the hand to the bases of two of the fingers. On the arm, the bruising was old and formed a swelling. There were no broken bones in the hand. On the right leg there were four faint bruises on the front and outer side of the thigh, four tiny bruises on the front and inner side of the knee, four small bruises on the upper part of the shin, and one on the calf. These were all recent. There was a recent bruise on the left knee, which measured 1¼ inch by ¾ inch. There was another about the same size on the upper part of the shin, and a similar bruise 1½ inch by 1 inch, half way down the back of the leg.
Sir Bernard said that with two exceptions, the body was that of a healthy child, and apparently well nourished.
Speaking of the internal examination, Sir Bernard said the skull was free from injury. He found a fairly considerable quantity of blood round the brain, more on the right than on the left side. It was in the space between the inner and outer coverings of the brain. There was a good deal of blood in the same space round the spinal cord. There was a little haemorrhage in the inner coverings of the brain over the lower part on both sides, and several small haemorrhages on the top of the brain on the left side. There was no bruising of the brain substance itself. The surface of the brain was flattened, and there was little blood in the cavities inside the brain.
Mr Ball: I think, Sir Bernard, you told us, in the opening of your evidence, that the cause of death was coma, or unconsciousness, due to haemorrhage – meningeal haemorrhage – due to violence. Would such an injury as you have described cause instant death?
Sir Bernard: Not actually instant death, but it might cause death within a few minutes of its infliction, or I think at the most it would be one or two hours of its infliction. Such an injury would produce immediate unconsciousness.
Mr Ball: As to the injuries generally. Take for example the injury to the hand. How do you suggest an injury of that description might occur?
Sir Bernard: I think only by violence in the form of a blow when the hand was resting on a hard surface.
Regarding other bruises on the front of the child, Sir Bernard suggested these might have been caused by the child being severely smacked on the buttocks when lying face downwards on a hard surface.
Mr Ball: Taking the injuries generally, are they, in your opinion, unusual?
Sir Bernard: Yes, in number, severity, and distribution.
Mr Ball: Do they indicate to you violent ill-treatment of the child?
Sir Bernard: Yes, they do.
Mr Ball: Could you roughly state the period over which this ill-treatment had extended?
Sir Bernard: The recent bruises were caused within 24 hours of death, and some of them may have been within a few minutes.
The Chairman: Of death?
Sir Bernard: Yes. The older ones might have been inflicted up to four of five days, or even a week, before death.
Mr Ball: Going back to the injury to the brain, could that injury have been caused by an ordinary fall?
Sir Bernard: No, sir.
Mr Ball: Or by the child getting under a table and jumping up?
Sir Bernard: In my opinion it could not.
Mr Ball: You have not formed an opinion as to the most likely?
Sir Bernard: No further than it might have been caused by a fall from a height on to a hard surface, or by a blow on the top of the head.
Mr Ball: By a stick?
Sir Bernard: It did not look like a stick.
Mr Ball: Or a hand?
Sir Bernard: I think something more than a mere hand would be required to do it.
Mr Ball: It must have been a blow of some considerable force?
Sir Bernard: Yes.
It must be recorded here that Sir Bernard Spilsbury would not have seen Charlotte before conducting the autopsy. Charlotte’s granddaughter told me that Charlote was quite a petite lady, probably a size 10 and about 5ft 3 or 4,
and quiet as a mouse. It is hard to imagine such a lady exerting the kind of force Sir Bernard implied. In the newspaper accounts of the case, this was never mentioned.
The Chairman: The suggestion was made, and it was put to you, whether the child could have had that injury by suddenly jumping up under the table. In your knowledge or experience, would it be possible for a child of that age to get up suddenly?
Sir Bernard: No, I do not think a child of 18 months could rise with such force as to produce an injury of that kind.
Mr Gardner: Would that not depend on the hardness of the table?
Sir Bernard: I am assuming it was hard.
Mr Gardner: Or the thickness of the table?
Sir Bernard: That would not make any difference.
Mr Gardner: Would you rule out the possibility of something falling from a height; the child falling against some sort of protection, or someone hitting it?
Sir Bernard: Not necessarily protection, but falling on its head.
Mr Gardner: Did you notice whether the child was rather a flabby kind of child?
Sir Bernard: No, I do not think so.
Mr Gardner: Was it white skinned?
Sir Bernard: Yes, white skinned.
I am not sure what condition Mr Gardner is hinting at here, but possibly anaemia or rickets. Mr Gardner went on to suggest haemophilia.
Mr Gardner: There was no suggestion whether it was an easily bleeding child?
Sir Bernard: There was nothing to indicate it was.
Mr Gardner: If it had been that sort of child, would it bruise more easily, or the bruise appear bigger or greater?
Sir Bernard: Yes, if the child had the condition known as a “bleeder”, certainly. It would bleed more easily and bruise more easily than an ordinary child.
Dr Malcolm Foster (Herne Bay) said that on December 12th Charlotte called on his surgery and asked him to examine the child, because she thought the child was very ill. He examined the child and found he was dead. He noticed bruising on the left hand which was markedly swollen, and a bruise on the cheek was obvious, and there were bruises on the right arm. He was not satisfied that death was due to natural causes, so he telephoned to the police.
Police Sergeant Conway arrived and spoke to Charlotte in Dr Foster’s presence. Dr Foster was present with Sir Bernard Spilsbury when the autopsy was made and Dr Foster agreed as to the notes made by Sir Bernard as to the injuries and with his opinion as to the cause of death.
Mr Blacklock: Did you form an opinion as to how long the child had been dead when it was brought to you?
Dr Foster: I thought a very short time before.
The Chairman: The child was brought to you at 1.15 pm?
Dr Foster: Between 1.15 and 1.20 pm. Mrs Mellor herself I do not think realised it was dead. She said it was alive shortly before 1 o’clock because she had noticed that the child was rolling its eyes.
The evidence of Detective Sergeant Kitchingham, given at a previous hearing, was read over. This was to the effect that on the afternoon of 22nd December 1930, he attended an inquest at the Council Chamber, Herne Bay, touching the death of Percy Page, a male child, aged 18 months. After hearing the evidence the July returned a verdict of manslaughter against Mrs Mellor. At 5.45 pm the same afternoon he cautioned her and charged her with the manslaughter of Percy Page on 12th December. She made no reply. He then conveyed her to Herne Bay Police Station, where he again cautioned and charged her that she, on 12th December 1930, at Herne Bay, did kill and slay one Percy Page, a male child, aged 18 months. She replied, “Nothing to say, only that I didn’t.”
Detective Sergeant Kitchingham added that 11.10 am that morning (yesterday) he had cautioned Charlotte and charged her with murder and she made no reply.
Mr Ball said that this was the case for the prosecution.
Mr Gardner submitted that there was not sufficient in that case to warrant the bench committing Charlotte for trial on the graver charge of murder. The whole of the evidence showed, as far as she was concerned, her willingness for investigation in every way. She did not conceal anything from Mrs Walker (Minnie). She offered Mrs Walker her house and also offered to take Mrs Walker’s family. There was no evidence to show she was concealing anything of what she was doing as far as the children were concerned. She took the child, immediately she thought it was ill, to Dr Foster. She would hardly have done that if she had intended to kill the child. She would possibly have taken the course which was taken in other cases of that grave nature, and disposed of the body or something of that kind. There was nothing like that in this case.
Whatever view the bench might take, he did not think the evidence showed she was guilty of such a grave charge, and it would hardly be right to commit her on the charge. With regard to the charge of manslaughter she had already been committed by the coroner for East Kent, and, therefore, it seemed to be useless to say anything about that charge. She must take her trial at the Assizes on that charge, and as regarded that, he did not propose to call Charlotte or any witnesses that day.
When the charge was read, Mr Gardner said Charlotte did not wish to say anything then, or call any witnesses. She reserved her defence. The Charman said that Charlotte would be committed to take her trial at the next Kent Assizes on the charge of murder.
Looking at the evidence against Charlotte, it hung almost entirely on the evidence given by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, supported by two unreliable witnesses. I have absolutely no medical training, however, my research makes me question whether the medical evidence suggests acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
On Friday 13th February 1931, the Grand Jury threw out the bill for alleged murder, and returned a true bill for alleged manslaughter.
Charlotte appeared at the Kent Assizes at Maidstone on Wednesday 18th February 1931. Unfortunately I have not been able to find an account of the trial.
Charlotte was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment in the second division. Second division prisoners were kept apart, as far as possible, from other classes of prisoners who might be more hardened. They received more frequent letters and were permitted more frequent visits.
Margaret Mellor stayed with the Whiteheads while Aunt Tot was in jail. It was probably during these five months that my grandmother Annie took the three girls, Margaret, Grace, and Margaret Mellor, for a trip on the Crested Eagle.
One day many years ago, when Margaret and I were going though photo albums, she told me about this story. I only took a few brief notes at the time and we never spoke of it again. My notes stated: Aunt Tot’s husband left her, she was always kind, but she was accused of battering a child she looked after because he had lots of bruises. My mother Annie was going to go to court as a character witness, but on the way she was struck by a lorry which was backing up. Aunt Tot was sent to prison and Mother looked after Margaret Mellor for a while. Margaret Mellor was a ‘scary girl’. (That is hardly surprising, as she was probably very confused and upset). Aunt Tot later remarried to a butcher called Coombes. He found out about Aunt Tot going to prison and they went into separate rooms. Aunt Tot bought me (my mother Margaret) a copy of the Child’s Garden of Verses.
It sounded as if my grandmother firmly believed that Aunt Tot was innocent, and her descendants believe the same.
There are a few issues which count against us clearing Charlotte’s name. We do not know whether the health visitor’s evidence was ever heard, withheld by the prosecution, or requested by the defence – and whether or not it was favourable. Laws of disclosure would have been different in those days. Laws of evidence would also have been different. I am not sure how much evidence would have been required to commit Charlotte. I suspect that without laboratory evidence, and with nothing to contradict the expert evidence of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, no other evidence would have been strong enough to defend Charlotte.
Charlotte’s granddaughter and I would be most interested to hear any constructive comments on this case.
Principal sources include the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 23 December 1930, the Dover Express, 26th December 1930, and the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, 10th January 1931.