Thursday, 31 May 2012

Today in the Pace case: 31 May

Thursday, 31 May 1928: The ‘committal proceedings’ at the magistrates’ court in Coleford open, presided over by five magistrates (four men and one woman). Officially, the magistrates have to decide whether there was a prima facie case against Beatrice Pace, though this was in some sense redundant: because she was charged under a coroner’s ‘inquisition’ the case would continue to trial in any case. However, importantly, the main evidence would be restated (unlike the coroner's inquest, this would now occur under the ‘rules of evidence’ that governed trial procedure) and be written down to produce the ‘depositions’ that could be referred to at the main trial.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The price of justice?

Now charged with murder, Beatrice and her family face a number of disadvantages, most significantly how -- in their generally impoverished state -- to pay for an adequate defence.

The following comes from a report in the Dean Forest Guardian that noted coverage of the case in other newspapers:

‘The “Daily Herald” raises the question of the cost of Mrs. Pace’s defence, and quotes her brother, Mr. Arnold Martin, as saying: “We want a good Counsel, but we are at our wits’ end to know where the money is to come from. What are we to do?”

Mr. Martin told a moving story of “the tragic widow’s” financial plight. “Often,” he said, “when I visited my sister since her trouble I have discovered that there was not a morsel of food in the house, and she did not possess a penny-piece to buy any. Out of my small earnings I have given anything from 2s. 6d. to 15s. to keep her and her children from starving, and my brother Fred has helped her likewise. It has been thought that my sister as bearing the costs of her solicitor, but this was an impossibility and all the law costs to date are being paid by me and my brother Fred.”

Dean Forest Guardian, 25 May 1928, p. 5

There was a legal aid programme already operating in this period, but in a complicated murder trial, it would not remotely have provided the defendant the resources that were available to the prosecution.

Beatrice would need a top-notch barrister to plead her case in court. Also, given that this was a poisoning case, expert witnesses would play an important role.

And they were not cheap.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Today in the Pace case: 23 May

Wednesday, 23 May 1928: Parliament, London.

Labour MP Will Thorne raises questions to the Home Secretary about the Pace matter, suggesting that the police had used ‘third degree’ methods. (On ‘third degree’, see an article I wrote for the journal Twentieth-Century British History.)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

'No, I didn't; no I didn't'

As noted, on this day in 1928, Beatrice Pace was charged -- in dramatic circumstances -- with her husband's murder.

This is an excerpt from the Daily Mail's report on the event:

'The stunning effect of the verdict returned against her was so great that she crumpled up instantly. She was able only to shout out, "No, I didn’t; no, I didn’t" and had to be helped out of the coroner’s court after sinking to floor. A policewoman and an inspector gathered her in their arms, where she lay inanimate. 

Medical aid was called, but even under the care of two doctors and Mrs. Bent, the wife of Mr. Alan Bent, the local police inspector, two hours elapsed before she was in a condition to hear the charge.'

'Mrs. Pace Arrested', Daily Mail, 23 May 1928, p. 13.

A 'pathetic place in the pageant of the innocent'

One of the things that has made writing about this case so interesting is the way that new aspects of, sources for and references to it kept turning up.

I have to admit, though, that it's a bit frustrating to keep finding new things after the book is finished.

Appropriately enough -- given that today is the eighty-fourth anniversary of Beatrice Pace being charged with her husband Harry's murder -- I ran across a comment on the case from the Hull Daily Mail (which is now available through the British Newspaper Archive) about the case.

The article was titled 'The Year's Crime', which looked back at the major criminal cases of 1928. And this is what it said about the Pace case:

Mrs Pace’s Ordeal

Perhaps there is just one drama of the courts that alone will be remembered out of the crime annals of the present year. The whole nation followed Mrs Beatrice Annie Pace through the terribly long, drawn-out ordeal of the Coroner’s inquest into the death of her husband, Harry Pace, from arsenical poisoning, and her subsequent trial for murder. The drama was almost without parallel in its development. At the conclusion of the inquest the jury found that the man had died from arsenic, but not self-administered, and the Coroner insisted that some person must be named. Then it came about that 'the tragic widow of Coleford' was arrested and placed on trial. But the hearing came to a dramatic end, for Mr Justice Horridge stopped the case and ordered the jury to find a verdict of 'Not Guilty.' So Mrs Pace takes her pathetic place in the pageant of the innocent.

Daily Mail (Hull), 31 December 1928, p. 6

Today in the Pace case: 22 May

Tuesday, 22 May 1928: 12th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Rowland Ellis is recalled and gives brief testimony about a ‘dolly tub’ at the Pace home—one which Harry and Beatrice used to ‘dip’ lambs—that contained water with arsenic in it.

Afterwards, the coroner, Maurice Carter, summarises the evidence and then sends off the jury to make their decision. Determining that their first verdict is unsatisfactory—for complicated reasons discussed in the book—Carter sends them off again to reconsider things. (This aspect of the verdict will be the subject of much discussion in press and Parliament.)

They return, declaring that they have reached their verdict: that Harry Pace had died from named Beatrice Pace.

Beatrice is brought before magistrates and charged with murder. That evening, she is taken to Cardiff prison. There, she will await the next legal stage in the case: the committal proceedings in the magistrates’ court.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Today in the Pace case: 15 May

Tuesday, 15 May 1928: 11th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

After brief testimony from police Superintendant J. Shelswell and a recalled Alice Sayes, the main event of this sitting is testimony by Beatrice Pace herself, who denies giving poison to her late husband.

At the end of her testimony, she breaks down. As reported by the Dean Forest Guardian: ‘the policewoman handed her some smelling salts as she began to sob and bury her face in her hands.’ (18 May 1928, p. 7)

The inquest is adjourned for a week. It is anticipated that a verdict will be reached at the next session.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Today in the Pace case: 14 May

Monday, 14 May 1928: 10th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Other than brief testimony from a former quarry co-worker of Harry’s, Ralph Dowle, the medical testimony continues. Ellis is recalled, and extensive evidence is given by Professor Isaac Walker Hall of Bristol University (who had analysed the organs and blood sent to him after Harry’s post-mortem) and Sir William Willcox, a renowned forensic expert and medical advisor to the Home Office. Edward Aston, a retired insurance agent, testifies about the life insurance policy he sold to the Paces.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Today in the Pace case: 10 May

Thursday, 10 May: 9th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Drs Du Pré and Nanda are recalled to clarify certain matters. Chief Inspector George Cornish of Scotland Yard describes his investigations and the circumstances that led to Beatrice’s 11 and 14 March statements to the detectives. The statements themselves are given to the inquest jury to read.

Rowland Ellis, the analyst for Gloucester and Gloucestershire demonstrates how the sulphur can be removed from sheep dip to produce a colourless (and largely flavourless) arsenic-rich liquid: this is important, as no sulphur but much arsenic was found in Harry’s organs and blood.

All subsequent proceedings focus on sheep dip as the likely source of the arsenic that killed Harry Pace.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Today in the Pace case: 9 May

Wednesday, 9 May 1928: 8th sitting of the coroner’s inquest.

Having heard a great deal of what could be called ‘circumstantial evidence’ in previous sittings, the coroner’s inquest finally turns to medical and forensic testimony.

Key witnesses here are Dr William Du Pré (the Pace family’s doctor), Dr Ram Nath Nanda (who had been brought in by Harry’s kin to give a second opinion about his illness the preceding autumn), Dr Norman Mather (who had treated Harry while he had been in the Gloucester Royal Infirmary the preceding autumn), and Dr Charles Carson (who conducted the post-mortem examination of Harry Pace on 14 January). Brief testimony is also given by Henry Smith, an expert on sheep dipping.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Today in the Pace case: 3 May

Thursday, 3 May 1928: 7th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Testimony is given by Alice Sayes (one of Beatrice Pace’s closest friends) and her husband Leslie. Both of them firmly deny the rumours circulating that Leslie Sayes was having an affair with Beatrice Pace (who also denied such claims). This issue, however, was a focus of this part of the testimony. (Inquests had wide discretion and were not restrained by the rules of evidence that governed trial procedure.)

Leslie, Beatrice’s nine-year-old son, also testifies. Dorothy Pace, who had originally given testimony on 18 April, is recalled to clarify some statements she made then. Trevor Wellington, Beatrice’s solicitor, criticises the police’s treatment of Dorothy during questioning. Elizabeth Porter, Harry’s mother, is briefly recalled.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Today in the Pace case: 2 May

Wednesday, 2 May 1928: 6th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Testimony is given by George Mountjoy (Harry Pace’s executor), Harry Winter (a fellow patient with Harry when he had been hospitalised the previous year), Harold Jones (aka, Harold Cole, a labourer who sometimes helped the Paces with their sheep), Frank Blatch (a chemist in Coleford who sold Beatrice Pace two packets of sheep dip in July 1927), and Sarah Ann Meek (a charwoman who had long been on friendly terms with Beatrice and Harry Pace).