In the darkest hours of Saturday morning on 28 February 1885 near Weatheroak Hill near Kings Norton, James Davies of the Worcestershire constabulary lost his life.
James Davies, a 33-year-old father of three and five year veteran of the police force, had left his home in Beoley at about ten o’clock the previous night to begin his shift with the Worcestershire Constabulary. At about one o’clock on that fateful morning, he met up with the Wythall policeman, also on duty, and remained with him until a quarter past two. The two parted after comparing their watches, separating at the Portway to go on with their patrols. James Davies went in the direction of Weatheroak Hill, intending to meet with the Alvechurch constable at Rowney Green at four o’clock.
He never arrived.
That was the last time that James Davies was seen alive.
At about half past eight on Saturday morning, John Twigg, a farmer of Rowney Green, was walking along Eagle Street Lane on his way to work at Weatheroak Hill when he came upon the dead body. The uniformed policeman was lying face down across the road, his feet in the gutter and his head in great pool of blood in the middle of the lane. Recognizing the deceased as police-constable James Davies despite the ghastly wounds on the officer’s face and neck, Twigg immediately summoned assistance from a neighbouring farm, and a messenger was dispatched to the police in Wythall.
Terrible Murder of a Policeman
About two hundred yards from the gate, in the direction of Beoley and Redditch, investigators found Davies’ whistle, his oak stick and signs of a desperate struggle. Fowl feathers were scattered in the muddy ground. It was surmised that Davies had come upon the poacher and had attempted to apprehend him. Before Davies could take his handcuffs from his pocket, it appeared that the poacher had pulled a knife and slashed the officer deeply across the right cheek from chin to ear. Davies’ nightstick was found to be stained with blood and had bits of hair on it, indicating that the tall and powerful constable had given some account of himself before succumbing to his wounds.
At a nearby farm, some 200 yards from the scene, the Newbold family had been woken by the furious barking of their watch dog at about half-past three or four o’clock that morning and it was surmised that this marked the time of the struggle and Davies’ death.
After the gruesome early morning discovery, the battered corpse had been taken to the shed of Mr. Stimpson, the wheelwright, who lived at the crossroads, and later that Saturday, when Dr. Gaunt of Alvechurch examined the body, he found that in addition to the initial wound, the deceased had been also been stabbed in the neck. The throat was cut deeply from left to right, nearly severing the wind-pipe which he determined had been the ultimate cause of death. Two fingers on Davies’ right hand and one on his left had been very nearly severed and a cut to the left thumb showed that he had used his hands to ward off the attack. Davies’ watch and chain were missing. his watch pocket cut.
As soon as the murder was discovered, Superintendent Jeffrey of the Bromsgrove division sent telegrams to each of the local police divisions. Superintendent Tyler of King’s Heath hastened to the scene and after learning that a fowl robbery had occurred that same night at a nearby farm, he immediately thought of a well known poacher named Shrimpton who had recently been released from gaol.
Taking a photograph of the man to Moor Street in Birmingham, he showed it to Detective-Inspector Stroud and others. Stroud recognized Shrimpton at once and said that he had been keeping an eye on him due to the increased number of fowl robberies since his release from gaol. He had been seen with a woman named Mary Moreton, Stroud said, and the pair were living in a furnished garret at 9 Bartholomew Street.
Inquiries revealed that Shrimpton had been away from his lodgings from seven o’clock on Friday night until nine or ten o’clock the following morning. Stroud and Taylor went to Shrimpton’s residence and found Shrimpton sleeping. As he arose, they grabbed him and handcuffed him, telling him he was being charged on suspicion of the murder of James Davies. Mary Moreton was present at the arrest at when the two officers searched her, they found a large pocket-knife with two blades in her skirt pocket. Although the knife had been washed and evidently thrust into the earth in an attempt to clean it, it still bore traces of blood.
Shrimpton, too, had blood on him. The right arm of his coat was saturated with blood from wrist to elbow, although some attempt had been made to wash it. His hat, a billycock, had also been washed. The front of his Guernsey was splashed with blood and his boots had been freshly washed and greased. Shrimpton’s forehead sported a cut about one and a half inches long with another smaller near it, both consistent with a blow from a policeman’s billy stick.
Both Shrimpton and Moreton were taken into custody. Shrimpton was locked up at King’s Heath and Moreton at Balsall Heath Police Station.
Although Shrimpton claimed that his head wound was the result of a drunken fall the week prior, Dr. Shaw, upon examination, confirmed that the wound had been inflicted within the last 24 hours.
Neither the stolen fowls, nor James Davies’ watch had been found in Shrimpton’s residence but a plea to the public and the local pawnbrokers was issued.
The stolen birds were white, with two light brows and two of a darker colour. It was not known if they were taken dead or alive. Davies’ watch was an old-fashioned German silver verge watch and was attached to a small steel chain.
Shrimpton was by trade a needle and fishing tackle maker but was known to have made a living from poaching and stealing. He had been in custody many times previously over the past 20 years, sometimes for theft but also for violent crimes. Some years ago, he had assaulted a gamekeeper on Lord Windsor’s estate and had also assaulted a Worcestershire policeman for which he had been incarcerated for seven years.
On Tuesday, 3 March 1885, both Shrimpton and Moreton were brought up at the King’s Heath Police Court and charged with the murder of James Davies as well as in the robbery of the fowls, property of Mr. Taylor, a farmer of Weatheroak Hill. Both prisoners were remanded into custody to await the results of the coroner’s inquest.
The funeral of Police Constable James Davies took place on Thursday, 5 March 1885 at the Beoley churchyard and was well attended. The slain officer’s casket was covered with wreaths and his family including his father, brother, sister-in-law and brother-in-law followed behind it. The funeral procession was led by the Birmingham Police Band with Chief Constable Colonel Carmichael of Worcester leading 150 of his fellow officers from Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Birmingham.
Elizabeth Davies, widow of the deceased, was heavy with child and approaching confinement. Left with four small children and another on the way, she was too stricken with grief to view the body of her husband.
Sir – In consideration of the interest taken in the subject, will you allow me to state that I shall be happy to receive subscriptions on behalf of the family of Police- constable James Davies, who was so brutally murdered on the night of the 28th ult., and also respectfully to invite others who are collecting to co-operate with me in the endeavour to raise a sum sufficient to prove of permanent benefit to the bereaved? I may add that an overflowing congregation at Beoley Church on Sunday last, chiefly of the labouring poor, and an offertory of £7, testified to the general desire to help this “widow and the fatherless in their affliction.” Your obedient servant, C. J. LANGSTON. Beoley Vicarage, Redditch, March 9. Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 10 March 1885
The James Davies Fund rose to £1408 1s 8d by mid-May and a committee was formed to administer it. Colonel Carmichael, the chief constable of Worcestershire, Mr. E L Tyndall and Mr James Heath were appointed as the administrators of the fund and they invested it, paying out a weekly sum to the widow for the support of her and her children. In the event that the widow should die, the fund would revert to the children when they reached the age of 21 years. The committee voted to use a small portion of the sum collected for a suitable memorial stone for the grave of James Davies.
At the coroner’s inquest in Alvechurch on Friday, 20 March 1885, several expert witnesses were called to testify. Dr. Thomas Stevenson, R.C.S., lecturer on Medical Jurisprudence at Guy’s Hospital and Official Scientific Analyst to the Home Office gave a report on the bloody clothes of Moses Shrimpton which he had examined in detail.
The waistcoat was of blue-ribbed cloth. Outside the right roll or lappet and on the braid were red stains of blood, so that the fabric was here stiffened. The blood here had been rubbed after being shed. It might have flowed from a wound in the head of the wearer. Inside, on the lining, over the right breast, were four groups of blood stains. They were spots and were distinctly spots of spurted blood such as would be produced by the blood spouted from a small artery, and could not have been produced from a wound in the head of the wearer of the garment. The blood on this garment was red mammalian blood, undistinguishable from human blood, and was fairly recent.Worcester Journal - Saturday 28 March 1885
Edward Bartlam, bailiff to Mr. Fisher of Weatheroak Hill Farm identified five of the fowls that had been found in a pit, saying that they did not look ‘quite so peart and well’ as when he fed them last on the night of 27 February.
Henry Smith of Beoley was called and said that he had cleaned Davies’ watch about a year and a half prior and described it as a German silver watch with a very large dial, an open face, and a flat cut glass.
After only fifteen minutes deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of willful murder against Moses Shrimpton for the murder of James Davies. Shrimpton was further charged with stealing six fowl from Mr. Taylor, the farmer and with stealing a German silver watch that had belonged to the victim. Mary Moreton was charged with being an accessory before the fact and George Facer, a malster, was charged with being an accessory after the fact. Shrimpton and Moreton were remanded while Facer was released on bail. Mr. Docker, the district coroner, presided.
George Facer Released
In a special sitting of the Balsall Heath magistrates on Saturday, 28 March, further evidence was presented regarding George Facer’s alleged role as an accessory after the fact. Both George Facer and his wife Mary testified that Mary Moreton came to their house with the German silver watch belonging to Davies. She asked Mrs. Facer to purchase the watch for 2s. When Mary Facer refused, Moreton left it at their house and George Facer, fearing that he would get into trouble over it, threw the watch into the malt house kiln. With insufficient evidence against Facer, he was released from custody but a subpoena was issued for him to give evidence for the Crown at the Shrimpton murder trial.
The commission for holding the Assizes for the four counties of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire opened on the afternoon of Saturday, 25 April 1885. There would be 43 prisoners on trial, including 8 who were charged with murder.
Moses Shrimpton was one of them.
Moses Shrimpton (66), needle maker, is charged with the willful murder of Police-constable James Davies, at Alvechurch, on the 28th February, and Mary Moreton (49), charwoman, is charged with being accessory to the murder after the fact. Worcestershire Chronicle - Saturday 25 April 1885
The Shrimpton case came up on Thursday, 7 May with Mr. Daniell undertaking the defense of Shrimpton and Mr. Plowden defending Moreton. Mr. Amphlett and Mr. Morton Brown appeared for the prosecution. When asked to plead, Shrimpton saluted and replied firmly, “Not guilty”. Moreton also pleaded not guilty.
The prosecution gave their opening statements to the jury, describing the case before the court and listing the evidence that they would present against Shrimpton and Moreton and then proceeded to call their witnesses. The first witness, Thomas William Bayliss, the Redditch surveyor, produced a plan showing the area around Eagle Street Lane.
Police Constable Whitehouse
The second witness, Whitehouse, a constable stationed at Whthall, described his meeting with the deceased on the night of the murder. He met Davies near the Rose and Crown public house at about one o’clock in the morning. They adjourned to a shed where they remained for about an hour. At two o’clock, after comparing their watches, they walked about a quarter of a mile together and then parted and Davies went in the direction of Weatheroak Hill.
The next time he saw Davies was the following morning at about nine o’clock when he was called to Eagle Street Lane and he saw the body of the deceased. The corpse was surrounded by the marks of a struggle and footprints. Henry Shaw handed him a night stick that he had found and Whitehouse handed it to Superintendent Jeffries, also at the scene.
John Twigg, Farmer
Twigg, a farmer of Rowney Green in Alvechurch testified that on the morning of 28 February at about half past eight, he was going from Seccham Farm along Eagle Street Lane. About 100 yards from Moorfield Lane he found a walking stick and a little further along he came upon the dead body, which he identified as James Davies. He had seen several footprints near the body and he covered them with bushes. He was at the scene the following day when Superintendent Tyler made a comparison of the footprints.
John Penn Gaunt, Surgeon
Guant had been called to the murder scene at about eleven o’clock on Saturday morning. The body, he said, was lying in the road with the feet in the ditch and the arms thrown back. Davies’ overcoat and coat were open and his waistcoat was partly open. His head, face and hands were covered with mud and there was a lot of blood on the upper part of his clothing, which had run down the side of his face and neck. The body had started to cool, but was still warm where it had been covered with clothing. He went on to describe the scene and the horrific wounds on the body of James Davies.
He saw signs of a struggle between two persons and two large footprints on either side of the body, about level with the waist, the toes pointing towards the head. He subsequently had the body moved to a nearby shed and examined it, finding a stab mark on the neck about an inch and three quarters deep. He also found a wound of about four and a quarter inches long from the right ear to the mouth. There were three stabs through the lower lip, and under the left angle of the jaw on the side of the neck there was a stab two and a quarter inches deep. There were two shallow stabs on the bone of the chin, and above and on the left of the larynx there was a slashing wound three and three-quarters inches wide laying open the throat. He noted that the body was very pale, had had no doubt died from exsanguination after the carotid artery and the jugular vein were cut.
The third finger of the right hand was all but severed and the fourth finger of the left hand was lacerated.
He examined the knife found in Mary Moreton’s skirt and said that such a knife could have produced the wounds he found.
Police-sergeant Long of Redditch
Long arrived at the scene of the murder on Eagle Stree Lane on Saturday morning at about eleven o’clock. He testified that he had seen the footprints and that they indicated that there had been a struggle. One set of footprints were made by nailed boots and the other by plain-soled boots with a very wide tread. He was of the opinion that the footprints made by the nailed boots were those of the deceased. He traced the footprints for about twenty yards towards Weatheroak Hill and afterwards followed the plain-soled footprints in the direction of Beoley. He examined the body and found that the watch pocket was cut and that the deceased’s watch was missing.
On hearing of the fowl robbery at Weatheroak Hill farm, he went there and found footprints in the fold-yard and traced them across the fields to Eagle Street Lane and then up to where the body was found.
Superintendent Jeffries of Bromsgrove
Jeffries had immediately suspected Shrimpton and on the day following the murder he went to Weatheroak Hill farm and compared the footprints there to Shrimpton’s boots and found that they corresponded exactly. On 7 March, he went to Seccham Farm and found two fowls in a watercourse. The footprints at that scene also corresponded to Shrimpton’s boots. In a nearby pit, five more fowls were found and the footprints there also resembled Shrimpton’s boots.
Superintendent Tyler of King’s Heath
Tyler testified that he had arrested Shrimpton and Moreton at 9 Bartholomew Street in Birmingham and that he found the knife in evidence in the pocket of Moreton’s skirt. At the time of the arrest, Shrimpton had fresh wounds on his forehead that had been covered with a sticking plaister. The accused said that he had received the wounds in a fall at Ludgate Hill the prior week.
At the station after the arrest, Shrimpton identified the knife from Moreton’s pocket as his. Tyler stated that he had found a stain in the crevice between the blade and the handle and that the handle was covered in reddish clay soil, even though it was clear that the knife had been washed. He then compared the soil from the knife to that found on the accused’s clothing and pillowcase and found that it appeared to be the same, and that it was consistent with the soil at the murder scene. The pillowcase, found in Shrimpton’s bedroom, also was stained with blood and he had found that it contained a fowl feather and some fowl dung.
Shrimpton’s clothing was blood stained, despite an attempt to wash it and his boots had been washed and greased. A bucket in the residence contained reddish brown water and at the bottom there was a residue of sand of the reddish brown type found at the murder scene.
When arrested, Shrimpton said that he knew nothing about the murder and claimed to have an alibi, but when pressed, he said that he was rabbiting at Yardley that night but had no witness to call. For her part, Mary Moreton exclaimed,
As true as God’s in heaven, I knew nothing about it until you came and took us on Saturday. I did not know what you were taking us for. I was at work at Facer’s all day on Friday. Mrs. Facer can prove that, and the women can prove that I was not out of the house all day. I was at home, and did my washing.Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 07 May 1885
After the last witnesses were called, Judge Baron Huddleston summed up the case and the jury retired for only a few minutes. When they returned to the court, they gave their verdict, finding Moses Shrimpton guilty of murder. They found Mary Moreton not guilty and she was released.
The judge then passed the sentence of death.
Execution of Moses Shrimpton
On Monday, 25 May 1885, Moses Shrimpton was executed at Worcester prison for the murder of Police-constable James Davies.
In the three weeks between his sentence and his execution, Moses Shrimpton received regular visits by the chaplain Rev A Telfer. The accused spent his last days in his cell, reading books provided by the Chaplain to provide him with spiritual consolation and was, by all accounts, penitent and resigned to his approaching death. He was visited by his son and son-in-law and bade them a ‘pathetic farewell’ after a brief visit.
On Monday, the day of the execution, Shrimpton rose at five o’clock and dressed and the chaplain sat with him from about six o’clock until half past seven.
The execution was scheduled for eight o’clock.
The executioner, James Berry of Bradford respectfully dressed in a black suit, brought his own rope and tackle and he tested the working of the trap prior to the appointed time. Shrimpton would the the twenty-sixth man he had hanged.
A few minutes before eight o’clock, those concerned left the prison and made their way to the place of execution. Shrimpton’s arms were secured, his hands bound in front of him, and his fingers were interlocked. He was dressed, not in the prison suit, but in his own clothes. He walked calmly to the apparatus and stepped onto the trap showing no fear as his legs were strapped by Berry and a white hood was lowered over his head.
The moment had arrived.
As the chaplain said the words, 'In the midst of life we are in death', the prison bell tolled, the lever was pulled, the trap dropped and Moses Shrimpton was dead.
Although at first it appeared that the execution had gone as planned, when the observers approached the pit under the trap, they found a gruesome scene. The rope had all but severed the prisoner’s head from his body and blood covered the walls of the pit and streamed down Shrimpton’s body. The drop of nine feet had been too great for a man of Shrimpton’s weight.
The execution room was locked and a Sheriff’s officer stood guard as the prisoner remained hanging for the one hour prescribed by the law. The spectators signed the formal declaration as required and it was posted on the entrance door according to custom.
The judgement of death was this day executed on Moses Shrimpton, at Worcester Prison.Worcestershire Chronicle - Saturday 30 May 1885