Sunday 3 May 2020

Taynton Murder

The sad and tragic case of the Taynton Murder in West Watford

The following developed from an original post by Brenda Ambrosone on The Original Watford Memories and History Group page in April 2020. The post garnered a lot of interest and the following accounts are from various contributors, a large amount of information being from a Mr Rob Cassidy who submitted the following:

From a newspaper article posted by Mr Rob Cassidy from:

MURDER AT WATFORD. A man and woman named Taynton, residing at South-terrace, Vicarage-road, Watford, went out about eight o'clock on Monday night, leaving in the house a son, Walter Joseph, aged 15, and a daughter, Jessie Maria, aged ten. When the mother returned at half- past ten she could not get admission to-the house, the doors being locked. She prevailed upon a neighbour named Williams to force an entrance by the back window, and he found the daughter lying on the floor of the living room in a pool of blood, the brains being scattered about her. A hammer was lying by her side, covered with blood and hair. The poor girl was still alive, but she expired immediately after the arrival of Dr. Stradling's assistant. The boy was returning home, apparently unconcerned, about half-past eleven, and was arrested in the road by the deputy chief constable of the county, who was waiting for him. On the boy's clothes were found stains of blood; blood was also found on the thumb of his right hand. The inquest was held on Tuesday evening at the Police-station, Watford, before Mr. R. W. Brabant, Deputy Coroner. Joseph Taynton, the father, said he left home at twenty minutes to nine. The deceased and her brother Walter Joseph were then in the kitchen, Walter reading and the deceased knitting. They appeared quite happy. When witness returned, about ten minutes to eleven, he was told what had occurred by the. police. He had left his tools in the kitchen. Caroline Taynton, the mother, said she left home at a quarter to eight, and returned just after ten. She knocked at the door, but got no answer. She heard a moaning inside. She called Mr. Williams, a neighbour, then went into the house by the scullery window, and opened the front door for her. The deceased was lying on her back in the kitchen, covered with blood. She had in her hands the knitting needles and piece of stocking she was knitting. Walter could not be found. Superintendent Hammerstone produced a shoemaker's hammer, which he found in the kitchen, covered with blood. He apprehended the prisoner at half-past eleven, and found stains of blood on his right hand and clothes. He cautioned him. The boy said nothing. Dr. Cox said the deceased died a few minutes after his arrival. There were three puncture wounds above and a little in the front of the right ear, and a large depressed fracture of the skull on the whole of the right side of the head, about five inches long and four inches wide. The wounds were such as would be caused by both the flat and the sharp ends of the hammer. They could not have been caused by a fall, or self-inflicted. The jury returned a verdict that there was not sufficient evidence to show by whom the injuries were inflicted.

Mr Cassidy then provided a link to the Journal of Mental Science, Vol 35, p385 - 389

(copy and paste the link into your search bar if you wish to see actual pages, but it is reproduced below in full)

'Case of Walter Taynton, Charged with killing his Sister, by Geo. H. Savage, M.D.'

"Case of Walter Taynton, Charged with Killing his Sister. By Geo. H. Savage, M.D. From time to time it is worth while recording trials in which persons have been tried for crimes which might have been com mitted while the criminal was of unsound mind, and it seems to me that the case of "Walter Taynton is one of such cases, for though there was some conflict in medical evidence, it was of small moment when compared with the ruling of the judge and the verdict of the jury. In this case a boy of 15 was charged with killing his little sister, aged 10, without sufficient, if any, cause, and the real question was whether he was to be considered insane and detained at her Majesty's pleasure or if he should be treated as having committed murder or man slaughter and punished accordingly. If he were insane, it seems to me to illogical to send him to prison simply for the reason that in the one case the incarceration would be for a limited time, and in the other it would be indefinite and, as the judge suggested, it would be for life. I had always understood that the consequences were not to be treated of by expert witnesses, that, in fact, they had to give an opinion on the facts irrespective of the result of the evidence. If this be not the aspect which we should assume in these cases, one would be inclined to say that as soon as one is called in, if opposed on principle to capital punishment, one ought to stretch every point to avoid the consequences. I have not done this hitherto, and I do not think the case under consideration will alter my action in such cases. I shall now give some details of the case, adding the notes as supplied to me concerning the crime itself. To begin with, the boy is a very small, ugly-looking lad, with a low forehead, narrow palate, and heavy, sullen aspect. His father is a shoe maker, a steady, sober man, whose paternal uncle died in Wandsworth Asylum, and whose maternal aunt committed suicide. The mother, a delicate-looking woman, is said to be healthy in mind and body. She has heart-disease and curiously coloured pink eyes, without being a true albino. Her father is said to have died of "paralysis and damaged brain," but it must be remembered that he was 77 at the time of his death The boy had convulsions when only 18 months old. He was not noticed as in any way very peculiar, though very back ward in walking and also in learning to speak; he could never dress himself, and up to 12 years old his mother actually had to be present when he was dressing. When old enough to go to school he was found to be very dull, especially in anything to do with figures, so that he could not be made to do the simplest sums of addition. This defect was never overcome, so that as time went on he failed at all the standards for arithmetic, and the school inspector made a special report on him, excusing him from his examinations at school as "obviously dull." He was solitary, not given to playing with his fellows; he was sullen, at times easily roused so as to strike his companions. He seemed all this time to be greatly given to reading books, but both his parents and the schoolmaster said he seemed to carry away nothing from his reading. The books selected were quite natural ones for a boy—books of travel and adventure, and they were not markedly sensational, or what are generally known as bad books. He had no special aptitude, and when he left school his father wished him to take up his trade, but found him hopelessly dull, so that he could not be taught even the most elementary parts of his trade. His father did not think this was due to any special distaste to the work.* He would get away and read his books, but never entered into home-life and pleasures like the rest. He was not a bad or untruthful boy; he went to chapel and to Sunday school; he was not emotionally religious. It should be remembered that he was ugly, and that, with a big, fat nose and slight strabismus, it is not surprising that he accused the boys of making fun of him, and he is said also to have complained, rightly or wrongly, of his little sister doing the same. This was not substantiated; but I am quite willing to admit that this may have been the case for a time, and that later he passed into a state of morbid self-consciousness, in which he imagined others made these remarks.
And now as to the murder. This boy was left quietly sitting by his sister, and while alone he took up his father's hammer, which was at his feet, and struck his sister, smashing her skull in, in the most dreadful way. Then he locked the back door, which he always did when he went out, and closed the front door. He was absent for a time, returning in an hour, when he was wet from rain. The interviews with his parents are given below. In this evidence he is said to have washed his waistcoat to get rid of the stains; anyway, it was more wet than the rest of his coat, but he might have laid down. He was taken to prison, and from the first displayed no emotion; he ate and slept well, and was a good, docile boy. Though watched, there was no evidence of masturbation, and I may add that he was very fully developed for a boy of his age. 
I now come to my examination of him, in July, three months after the commission of the act. He was shown into the room where the surgeon to the prison and I, with a lawyer and warder, were. He seemed very little impressed by the gravity of the questions; he was in no way nervous; he answered his questions slowly; he had a very sullen, heavy expression; his head is small, forehead low, the back of the head is the larger, the palate is narrow and high; he has a very slight external strabismus of left eye; his nose is soft and ill-formed. He was told the reason of my coming, and he did not seem to mind it. I got very little out of him beyond answers of "Yes" and "No." (* When his father was away,  he would get his hammer and use it even at night.) He did not seem to be so hopelessly bad with figures as had been represented, as he answered several questions from the multiplication table. There were no signs of any active mental disorder in him at the time I saw him, and the warders spoke of him as being no trouble; he was said to sleep well, to be clean, truthful, and easily managed. He had not been noticed to talk to himself, or to do anything pointing to hallucinations of any of his senses; his memory was not markedly defective, though it was said to be feeble. After the interview he was taken back to his cell. I heard afterwards that Dr. Swain had two interviews with him and got much more information out of him than had any of us, or his counsel or solicitor, both as to the act and to his memory of the time preceding the crime. But there was no admission that he washed his waistcoat to remove the blood. At the trial the parents gave evidence supporting what they had already given before to the magistrates, and denied that the boy was in the habit of quarrelling with his sister or with any of the family. The schoolmaster, who had been a teacher for 32 years, and had had many hundreds of boys through his hands, said that he came forward spontaneously to give his evidence that in his belief the boy was not of sound mind; he had never met with a boy like him, so peculiar, and only once had he met with one at all like him. He said the boy was solitary, given to reading without gaining anything apparently from it, and would hide away. His mother said he would at times make the most hideous grimaces without anyone being near him. The master was quite unable to teach him arithmetic, and he failed at all the standards. He was not a bad boy, but defective and peculiar. I was called upon to give my opinion as to his state of mind, and said I found that he was unlike other boys, that I believed him to be defective from birth, and that I did not think he appreciated the nature of his act. I gave as reasons for my opinion the direct but distant taint of insanity and nervous disease in his ancestors, the occurrence of fits in infancy, the incapacity for learning, the sullen, solitary ways, the constant reading with little or no retention of the matter read, the utter want of appreciation of the gravity of his act, the stupid going away after the act, and the return, as it seemed, because the weather was wet and uncomfortable. Each of these symptoms was remarked upon by the judge—Lord Coleridge—as being frequent in others than the insane. He referred to the solitary reading habits of Shelley, and he pointed out the serious result, if the boy were considered insane and sent to Broadmoor. 1889.] Clinical Notes and Gases. 389 Dr. Swain, of the Three Counties' Asylum, gave evidence to the effect that, though the boy was below the normal standard, he was not to be considered as of unsound mind. He believed that he knew the nature and quality of the act he had done. Other evidence of the same kind was given—there being after all only a very slight difference of opinion as to the degree of the want of mental development, and I consider that doctors had every right to differ as to this. The judge made a decided set, if it is not contempt of court to say so, for a verdict of manslaughter. The jury fell in with his opinion, and the boy was condemned to 10 years' penal servitude! The whole question then is—Was it the best thing for his future to send him to gaol or to an asylum ? In any case the boy is pretty certain to end his days either as a lunatic or a confirmed criminal, and I fancy the best course has been taken to make him the latter. So society will suffer the more, and the boy himself will be none the better."

Several newspaper references to the trial were also sent by Mr John Cooper, one of which is reproduced below, from the Herts Advertiser & St Albans Times - Saturday August 3rd 1889.

Mr Michael Tate then also posted on The Original Watford Memories and History Group page:  "The family continued to live in Watford, later at Anyho Street just off Vicarage Road. Walter was first sent to Wormwood Scrubs, but was soon moved to the new prison in Dover, which was built with the intention of housing prisoners that would be used to build a new harbour there, although this never happened and the prison was closed in the mid-1890s. Walter then turns up in Parkhurst and was set to be released in January 1897. Before release he gave his intended residence as 32 Charing Cross and said he would work as a shoemaker. 32 Charing Cross was where the Royal Society for the Assistance of Discharged Prisoners was based. He doesn't appear on the census after in Watford with his family, so I guess they wanted nothing to do with him. In fact, I've found no sign of him after his release - probably went thereafter by an alias."


Brenda Ambrosone for the initial post on the Original Watford Memories and History Group Facebook Page

Mr Rob Cassidy for newspaper article and the link to: Journal of Mental Science, Vol 35, p385 - 389

Mr John Cooper for the link to the archive newspaper articles

Mr Michael Tate for an account of Walter Taynton after his release. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts