Ian, a renowned local historian, who has appeared on TV & radio, told us the story of a multiple murder, in Mansfield, that occurred in the early hours of 11th August 1895.
Henry Wright (H.W.) the lodger, had, allegedly, murdered his landlady, Mary Reynolds aged 48, her 2 children, Big William & Charles, aged 15 & 17, & her grandson, Little William aged 2.
Mary was widowed but had been married twice. Her last husband had died in 1890.
Also in the house on that night, but who survived, were George (Marys elder stepson) & her grandson Little Robert, who was only there for the one night.
At 1.50am Inspector Hopkinson, living over the police station, was awakened by H. W. hammering on the door of the police station, with his throat cut as far as his windpipe, stark naked, covered in blood, holding Little Robert in his arms, who was on fire.
Hopkinson doused the burning clothes, phoned for the doctor, & bandaged Wrights throat. Wright not able to speak, pointed down the road. Hopkinson recognised that Wright lived 50 yards down the road, blew his whistle for back-up, & ran down the road to where the house was on fire.
A police Officer Steadman came to the station & recognised Wright as someone he had spoken to 2 hours earlier. He proceeded to the burning house. The doctor came to Wright & stitched up his windpipe, whereupon Wright confessed that he had killed them all & set the house on fire. The doctor took Little Robert to Mrs. Hopkinson & Wright confessed to her as well, that he had killed them all.
At the scene of the fire, eventually, the fire brigade arrived. The front door was found to be locked, & the back door jammed partly open. Neighbours kicked in the front door. The first floor front room was locked, & in the first floor back room Marys 2 children were found dead with their throats cut. The 2 rooms on the top floor had their doors roped together closed, so no-one could get out. The front room was subsequently found to be empty, once the rope had been cut, & George was in the back room, & had escaped through the window, by ladder, with the help of Steadman.
Mary Reynolds was found dead in the kitchen, disembowelled, blocking the door.
The murder weapon & the razor which H.W. tried to commit suicide with, by cutting his throat, were found in the house.
The fire was put out after 7 hours & Little Williams charred body was then found.
Wright was taken to the Infirmary under guard, assessed but not passed fit for trial for 10 weeks as he sometimes went into a trance, seemed terrified, in despair & had fits which were questioned as being fake.
At the Inquest, the day after the crime, there was conflicting evidence as some said there was no alcohol on his breath, but others reported that they had been drinking with him, & it transpired that he had a history of fits which some deemed to be fake.
The jury visited the scene, took photos, & noted there had been a fight in the kitchen.
After this the 4 funerals took place, with emotions running high & at one funeral George feinted & the crowd turned against Wright.
At the first committal hearing Wright was dishevelled, dirty, holding his head between his legs & he made no plea or comment when demanded to respond to whether guilty or not. He rushed out part way through the proceedings & was therefore charged as guilty & sent to jail, to await trial. Mansfield could now get back to ‘normal’.
At the trial, Wrights father, who had a fruit & veg. shop, which was about to be demolished, said his son had been studious, but after an accident which had occurred in the past & damaged his head, he was never the same again. He ended up working as a labourer in an iron foundry, wasn’t very bright & was the butt of jokes from his fellow workers. He joined a military establishment, went to camps, but was dismissed after he had fits on a few occasions. After his mother died his attitude changed, he did nothing at home, so was told to leave & he ended up as a lodger with Mary Reynolds in 1890.
In 1893, George the stepson came to live with his stepmother & had to share a bedroom with H. W.. George had had a 12 year career in the army in India, had got a medal for the battles he had fought, had suffered from gonorrhoea, syphilis, cholera etc & had been treated with injections of mercury.
On the night of 10/8/1895, H.W. & Mary Reynolds met, & George joined them later, but, in the evening, Henry Wright went for a drink with a mate & met police officer Steadman on the way home. He seemed to be no worse for drink.
The governor of the prison where H.W. was being held, had written that there was something not right with H.W.
A specialist was called who declared that H.W. was insane at the time of the crime, possibly due to the effect of alcohol.
The chief of Broadmoor also classed H.W. as insane brought on possibly by alcohol.
H.W. made no plea of guilty, or not guilty or even that he was a homicidal maniac. He never defended himself, except when Mary Reynolds stepdaughter gave evidence that he was a violent man, at which point H.W. shouted that she was a liar & was afraid to go home because she was afraid of her husband. This was the only time he said anything.
The judge had a reputation of being tough & the jury took 18 minutes to find H.W. guilty.
H.W. was a beaten man & only once asked to see the father of the youngest victim, but he went to the gallows on 24/12/1895.
After this tragic episode we were told that all those involved, including Inspector Hopkinson, came to a wretched & untimely death. Little Robert died of scarlet fever after 3 months. George became an alcoholic & thief & ended up in jail & the workhouse & the same infirmary as H.W. & died aged 35 in 1897 of emaciation.
In 1900 the neighbour who helped, died at 48, & Doctor Godfrey died at 39 years of age. The fire chief died in 1903 & Insp. Hopkinson died after a crash on his pony & trap, from shock at 48 years of age.
The police officers involved & the executioners & assistants, also all came to a sticky premature end.
11/8/1895 was a traumatic night for all concerned, with far reaching consequences.
Ian kept us all concentrating on this very interesting, well researched & delivered talk.