On Monday 18th September, North and South Wheatley Local History Group members were joined by Lynda Hotchkiss. Lynda set the scene of the ‘Turnpike Murder’ explaining that members were to act first as a coroner’s ‘jury’ and then as the jury in the Assizes. This was a true ‘story’ researched by her over a number of years because one of the witnesses was found to be a distant relative.
The year was 1833, when the ‘law’ was enforced by the parish constable and there was no police force as we know it today. The village of Heckington, south of Lincoln, was on the junction of major thoroughfares with much passing traffic. On the evening of 9th March 1833 at about 5.45pm, just as it was getting dark, John Nichols, a wine and spirit merchant, had finished his business in the village and was headed home. He then spotted a body lying in the road. The group was asked to consider his character and that of the other individuals, as they heard about them, as to whether they make honest and reliable witnesses in each of the courts. Members heard many facts about the circumstances, the injuries, the possibility that it might be murder, the surgeon who examines the body. The card game taking place in a village ale house, men drinking from breakfast time until the discovery of the body, where they were, who did what and when, the discrepancies of times given by individual witnesses. William Brown the landlord, William Taylor one of the card players, whose movements alert suspicion, the fact that the body was warm when found. The evidence stacking up including the fence post likely to have been the murder weapon, the identification of the corpse and his bulging purse, the finding of that same purse empty near the body and a whole host of other plausible facts.
All this comes out in the Coroner’s court and the finger of suspicion of murder is pointed at Taylor. Here, members were asked to vote on three options. None of them believed him to be guilty, four think he is not guilty and 13 want more evidence. After a further wealth of evidence members were asked to vote again — this time one believed him to be guilty, four still thought he was innocent and the rest still want more evidence to judge.
Taylor is found guilty at the assizes, and his demeanour is strange. The group heard about the prison at Lincoln where he is held, the Chaplin’s opinions, the walk to the executioner, Taylors claims on the gallows that the murder was committed by two carpenters, the coroner again to examine the body after execution. All the facts and evidence lead Lynda to believe that Taylor may have been a young man with Down’s Syndrome. He had been accused, tried, and hanged within three weeks and no significant defence given to court. This was another murder mystery that had been superbly researched from the gushing and detailed reports in the newspapers of the times and laid before us. There were a few questions, observations and a deal of discussion before the meeting drew to a close.
The next meeting of the society will be on Monday 20th November at 10.00am in Wheatley Village Hall when Adrian Summers will give a talk entitled ‘Zeppelins Over Retford’ — about the zeppelin raids in our area during World War I. A friendly welcome and a cuppa is assured, first visits are free, you can then join or return as a paying guest.