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Author Topic: Murder at Tunbridge Wells. July 1888  (Read 945 times)

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Offline smiffy

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Re: Murder at Tunbridge Wells. July 1888
« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2017, 22:38:27 »
This would appear to be an unusual situation where two sociopaths meet by pure chance with unfortunate results, their subsequent behaviour almost seeming to indicate that they had a mutual death wish. In all likelihood these days they would probably have ended up in a place like Broadmoor.

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: Murder at Tunbridge Wells. July 1888
« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2017, 10:16:54 »
Excellent stuff HC, this is the kind of stuff the Forum needs more of. Keep 'em coming :)
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent


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Murder at Tunbridge Wells. July 1888
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2017, 16:52:00 »

[From our Special Correspondent.]
London, October 19, 1888.

On the evening of the 20th July last Mr. Lawrence, chief engineer at the Baltic Sawmills, Tunbrldge Wells, was called out of his house by two men, who told him he was wanted at the office.The poor man left his wife and family. By and-bye a shot was heard, and a short time after the body of the murdered engineer was found in the road. He had been shot through the head at close quarters. The mystery was a very painful one, as Mr. Lawrence was universally respected and had no enemies. Suspicion naturally fell on the workmen at the sawmills, and several were shadowed, but without result. Time passed, and though the police had valuable clues (which one can now see would have led direct to the murderers had they not disregarded them) nothing could be discovered.

The first gleam of light came on Friday evening last. It was then rumored in Tunbridge that two lads named Gower and Dobell, aged respectively 17 and 18, had confessed the crime to a local leader of the Salvation Army, and were even now In custody. At first very few credited the story. The two boys, their friends said, were always reading 'penny dreadfuls,' and had hoaxed the police for the sake of notoriety. Later, however, the circumstantial character of their confession began to impress people in spite of themselves, and there can now be no doubt whatever the pair are the long looked for murderers. Gower, it seems, had a grudge against Mr. Lawrence for keeping him late on one or two occasions and calling him 'soft-headed.' Dobell did not work at the sawmills, and had nothing against the engineer, but he was Gower's pal, and 'true as steel' (to quote that wretched youth). Gower's enterprises were Dobell's and Dobell's Gower's. Consequently when the last-named amiable youth, after readIng In the 'Young Gentlemen of Great Britain,' or some such periodical, how the gallant young 'Pirate Dick' disposed of a hated oppressor, proposed to shoot the tyrant Lawrence, Dobell cordially agreed to assist him. The crime seems to have been committed perfectly casually, in fact, as will be seen below, It was only one of a series. The pair tossed up which should 'pot the old man,' and 'the job' fell to young Dobell. On September 27 Dobell, meeting a boy in the street, asked him to take the following letter to the editor of the local paper :-

Sir Two months having now passed, I venture to ask you to be kind enough to allow me a small space in your valuable paper for a few facts concerning the death of the late Mr. Lawrence. In the first place I beg to state that the evidence given at the inquest and afterwards has been utterly false, with the exception of the two lads in the timber-yard. I beg to correct that wrong statement Mrs. Lawrence gave. I, the murderer, did not summons him from his house at all, as he was outside the back door when I first spoke to him, and my impression was to have shot him on the spot. Lawrence was very talkative when he was out of  doors, little thinking of the death he had so shortly got to die.. The last words he spoke while in my company was when he caught sight of the pistol sticking out of my pocket. He said  'What do you carry them things about with you for?' My answer was ' To shoot down dogs and curs like you !' Lawrence said 'What, would you shoot a  'Bang ! And Tunbridge Wells was startled by another mystery which is never likely to be found out. I might here state that the key which was found is likely to lead to no clue whatever, as that is as much a mystery to me as the murder is to you. I also wish to threaten Mr. Edwards if he has any more to say concerning Mr. Martin, who is as innocent of the crime as he is.
 I remain, yours truly,
Another Whitechapel Murderer.

There was a postscript which stated that another letter giving the whole of the particulars from beginning to end would follow shortly. This letter was duly shown to the police, who, however, neglected to follow it up on the ground that they were sure it was a hoax.

On October 9th Dobell jocularly confessed his crime to a brother workman, who merely laughed and declined to believe such bunkum. At this time the two "mates" were attending the Salvation Army meetings at Tunbridge Wells for what purpose is open to some suspicion, as one of them has since confessed that one night he went there 'armed to the teeth, and on the lookout for someone.' On October 11th, says a local correspondent of the Daily News, both Gower and Dobell were at a Salvation Army meeting led by Mr. Cotterill. This gentleman discoursed upon "Victories won and what they cost," and he noticed at the penitential table after the address that Gower seemed to have something on his mind.

Next morning early the young man called at Mr. Cotterill's house, and was accosted with "Good morning. Did you get victory last night?" Gower answered, "No; I didn't get saved;" but added "I believe my mate got saved last night.' More conversation ensued, and Mr. Cotterill told Gower he suspected he had something on his mind, and urged that if he had he must confess before God would save him.
The youth hesitated awhile, but at length said there had been nothing bad done in Tunbridge Wells for some time that he and his mate had not been at the bottom of; that they were two bad characters; that they were at the bottom of the Saw Mills murder. In response to Mr. Cotterill's expression of surprise Gower continued, "Me and my mate did it; we tossed up as to who should do it." Asked why it was done, he said it was out of spite to Lawrence, who had stopped his time; Asked how it was done, he said, "One of us fetched him out, told him he was wanted, and when the road was clear my mate shot him." In the course of further talk Gower explained that he and Dobell were sometimes sorry for what they had done, but sometimes felt that if Lawrence were to rise again they would do just the same.  He declined Mr. Cotterill's invitation to confess to the police, but gave him permission to tell his wife on condition that he told no one else.

Mr. Cotterill asked Gower to come again, and the young man went to his work. The Salvation Army officer then, with a promptitude and completeness which gained for him a public compliment from the magistrates, communicated with the army officers in London, with the result that In the afternoon he accompanied Mr. Superintendent  Emery to the saw mills. The arrest was effected by the superintendent, to whom Gower, in a nonchalant manner, admitted the charge, and said Yes, it was perfectly true that they tossed as to who should shoot, and the lot fell to Dobell. The manager of the mill, who was standing by, remarked, "But Dobell never worked for us. What grudge could he have against Lawrence ?"  "Oh," airily chimed In Gower, "He's a friend of mine, and as true as steel." A moment later he said with a toss of his head, and with a tone of Indifference, "Lawrence was always calling me soft-headed." Gower told the superintendent how and where to find the revolver and cartridges, and gave him other incriminating information. When the superintendent came out of the mills with his prisoner the latter shook hands with Mr. Cotterill and said, "Well, captain, I thought you would have waited till tonight." Mr. Cotterill answered that he had to act under orders from his superior officer, and showed him the telegram received ordering him to go to the police at once.

Meanwhile a detective had arrested Dobell at his home. A letter had been received by him during the day from Gower In the following terms :

"My Dear Mate. The Holy Ghost entered your heart last night. God only knows I wish it had mine. There seems to be something I could not give up. I went to the captain this morning and confessed all to him. He wants to see us both to-night: so please to come down to my home to night at 6 o'clock instead of 5.30. The lodge will be unlocked, so you can come in. Don't be later than 6 o'clock. I have not said anything to my mother yet. Your Mate."

Dobell admitted to the police that he was the actual murderer, and explained that the threat in the published letter referred to a man who had given evidence at a trial against some acquaintance. The prisoners were committed for trial on the charge of wilful murder, but a new surprise was in store when they came up for the signing of depositions.

During the night of Monday the prisoners in their cells freely, and in the boldest manner, made confession of a string of crimes. Last year they set fire to three empty houses, one each for October, November, and December: they fired several fagot and hay stacks; they broke into a house and stole some cage birds, leaving a dagger stick behind them, which Dobell in the most larkish manner informed Mr. Superintendent Emery was his property. They set fire to the firs on the common, time after time, and they lay in wait to take the life of a former comrade, named Langridge. To use their own expression, they intended to "pop him off." Three times In succession they were foiled. A letter, on the first occasion, was sent as if from a young woman of his acquaintance, making an appointment. Langridge went to the place mentioned and cooled his heels for twenty minutes, watched by Gower and Dobell, in ambush. Gower at length came out and said that the girl had gone on to her sisters; should they walk together? The intention was to murder Langridge at a certain gap from which Dobell was to spring, but the gap happened to be stopped up, and Dobell, in retreating from it, happened to run into a policeman. The engagement accordingly fell through.
On a second occasion Langridge escaped by refusing to accompany Dobell down a dark lane, and a third merciful interposition was brought about by Langridge's mother keeping back a false letter by which he was to be decoyed into a lonely bye-way. This youth Langridge was once a comrade, but the friendship cooled and the cold blooded pair who remained constant, doubting his discretion in the matter of secrets, resolved to "pop him off."

Any hopes that were entertained early in the week as to the penitence or remorse of these desperate youths were dispelled by their demeanor in court. At the very commencement of the proceedings they were reproved for turning their, backs upon the magistrates and staring jauntily about the court. Dobell defiantly and angrily denied that they tossed up as to who should fire the first shot, and both Gower and Dobell showed an absolute indifference about the grave position in which they stood. After they were committed for trial they sang, yelled, whistled, and laughed in the cells, and the last thing seen of them at the Tonbridge Railway Junction was Dobell  In blackguardly language threatening (when he comes out) to "do for" some person whom he recognised in the crowd.

The young men have since their arrest created the worst impression by their reckless, defiant, and hardened demeanor. It is said that a large number of the vicious publications by which the minds of lads of the working class are poisoned have been found in the homes of Gower and Dobell.

South Australian Weekly Chronicle. Sat 8 December 1888.

Execution of Two Murderers.

William Gower, aged 18, a moulder, and Charles Joseph Dobell, aged 19, a plumber, were hanged at Maidstone Gaol on January 2 for the murder of Bensley Cyrus Lawrence, by shooting him through the head on the 20th of July last, in a timber-yard adjoining the Baltic Saw-mills at Tonbridge Wells. The circumstances surrounding the murder for which the youths have been hanged were of a very extraordinary nature. The murdered man, who was married and had two children was 54 years of age, and was time keeper at the Baltic Saw-mills at Tunbridge Wells. Gower was also employed at the mills, and in the course of six months Lawrence reported him 27 times for being late, a fine of a penny being inflicted on each occasion.

Dobell was a constant companion of Gower, but was not employed at the mills, and did not know the deceased. Gower, who was irritated at the frequent fining, inducted Dobell to join in a  conspiracy to murder Lawrence. A revolver was purchased, and they drew lots to decide who should fire the shot. The lot falling upon Dobell, he, on the night of the 29th of July, enticed Lawrence out of the house and shot him through the head. Two or three persons ran towards the place where the sound of the shot proceeded, and Lawrence was found bleeding and Insensible. No person was near him, nor was any revolver found near the spot.

Lawrence was carried to the hospital, and died without being able to make any statement The murder caused the greatest excitement; but no clue to the murderer was found, although all the people at the mills, including Gower, were closely questioned. On the 27th of September a lad named Saunders was near the offices of the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, when Dobell asked him to take a letter to the office, and he did so. In this letter, which was signed "Another Whitechapel Murderer," the writer asked for a small space in "your valuable paper," regarding the murder of Mr. Lawrence, and corrected some statements made at the inquest. The writer at the same time admitted that he fired the shot, or, as he expressed it, "Bang! and once more Tunbridge Wells was startled by another mystery." He also threatened, in the same letter, a Mr. Edwards not to say any more about a Mr. Martin, upon whom some suspicion had temporarily rested.

(Section omitted as it gives the same information about the Salvation Army and Mr Cotterill as in first clipping).

Mr. Cotterill went and gave information to the police, and the prisoners were arrested the  same afternoon. They afterwards both admitted their guilt, and eventually took their trial before Mr. Justice Matthew, at Maidstone, on the 13th and I4th of December, when the jury found them guilty, and they were sentenced to death. Since then vigorous efforts have been made to secure a reprieve; but a communication was received from the Home Secretary stating that he saw no reason to interfere with the course of the law, and the two prisoners have accordingly paid the full penalty for their crime.

After their conviction both youths behaved with calmness, but they appeared scarcely to realise their position. They spent the greater part of the day preceding their execution in writing to their friends, after they had been told there was no hope of a reprieve. They retired to rest at 11 o'clock, and appeared to sleep well. They arose at 6 in the morning and partook of breakfast. The chaplain, the Rev. W. Jackson, was with them early, and both prisoners prayed fervently. The pinioning process took place in a short passage near the cells occupied by the prisoners, and only about six yards from the drop. Both men walked firmly to the scaffold, and there was not the slightest appearance of halting by either. Gower first took his place on the drop, and both calmly adjusted their feet to the chalk marks made by the executioner.

The chaplain repeated the last words of the solemn service while Berry adjusted the white caps. An soon as the bolt was drawn the drop fell, and death was instantaneous, there being, however, a slight quivering of the rope to which Dobell was attached. Those present who had attended many previous executions declared that they never saw men meet their fate with more calmness. Gower, who weighed 9st., was given a drop of 7ft., and Dobell, who weighed 9st. 9lb., had a drop of 6ft

Warwich Examiner and Times (Aus) Sat 23 Feb 1889..
Hometown Blues Syd Arthur


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