Sunday, 22 April 2018

Herbert and Maud Freeman

We have all known couples who should never have been together. A marriage doomed from the onset or two people who should never be seen in the same room together. This is such a story. It culminates in the extraordinary events of September 4th 1911 at Hanch north of Lichfield and near the present-day golf club but had been causing much more than ripples in southern Staffordshire before then.

Herbert Freeman, aged 46, was charged with attempting to kill his wife Maud, aged 33,. They had been living at Craddock's Yard, Wilcox's Entry, Tamworth Street, Lichfield and married on August 8th 1911. To show just how big a mistake this marriage was we need look no further than the wedding reception at the Windsor Castle Inn, Lichfield. The 'happy couple' had fought and fought so bitterly and loudly the landlord had been forced to send for the police who, having failed to quieten them, arrested and charged the couple to appear before the magistrates next day.

Next month things had not improved. They were out on Cannock Chase and called at the Roe Buck Inn, Wolseley Bridge. Here they met none other than Alfred Black, a dreyman from the Lichfield Brewery Ltd, who managed to be convinced how it would be a very good idea to give them a lift back to Lichfield on the back of his float. All seemd to be proceeding surprisingly well until they reached Handsacre when Maud reached out and felt inside Herbert's pocket. He claimed she was trying to rob him, although she claimed it had been a joke. Words were exchanged and then he pulled out a long-bladed knife, threatening to kill both his wife and the driver. Alfred was understandably alarmed but offered to take them to the nearby nursing home at Lichfield when she said she was hurt. They never got further than Hanch Hall, where both passengers alighted and Albert drove away.

Later the police and a doctor travelled to Hanch Hall. Here they found the Freemans lying in a pool of blood. Both had had their throats cut, he quiet dead but she unconscious. She was taken to Rugeley District Hospital where she regained consciousness and babbled incoherently for a while. Maud Shipley, as she had previously been known, was previously married to a workman for the local council until he met with an accident at Lichfield Isloation Hospital in 1910 and died at Birmingham Accident Hospital from the resulting injuries.

Herbert's daughter Alice said at the inquest her mother had died in December 1903. Her father had had no regular employment for the last twelve months but she thought him a good father who had fed and clothed his children well. Since the fight on their wedding night she had witnessed many quarrels. On the day in question the couple had taken the train from Lichfield Trent Valley to Hagley, he seeking employment in the track widening while she looking for a home at Hagley as they had been given notice to quit Wilcox's Entry. The inquest was adjourned at this point while further witnesses were summoned.

Reconvening on October 3rd, the court heard from dreyman Alfred Black. He spoke of how Herbert had knocked his wife to the floor of the float before throwing her from it. Maud had appeared hurt but Herbert said he would take of her and he left them. Soon after a car driver stopped when he saw two people fighting near Hanch Hall. Picking up the story he spoke of how he raised the alarm when he discovered the woman on the ground, he thinking her dead, with the man still alive and he went to Hanch Hall to call for help. When the police and doctor arrived they found Maud with two deep cuts to her neck and Herbert with one deep cut severing the windpipe and he clearly dead. Another witness, an employee at the hall, described how he saw the man strike the woman twice with an umbrella, words were exchanged and both were pushing the other in an aggressive manner.

When the police officer gave evidence he identified the knife found at the scene as that know to poachers as a rabbit-legger or a buck sticker. The doctor estimated the man had been dead for around 90 minutes, the woman found to have two deep cuts about three inches in length to the side of her neck. She also sported a black eye, finger-shaped bruises to her arms, and other bruising about her arms and legs. Examining the man he found fingernail scratches to his arms and face, a four-inch wound to the throat and deep enough to expose the back of the palate, his jugular was severed and eath would have occurred in a matter of seconds. Earlier signs of alcohol abuse was found at the post mortem along with an old injury which meant he was missing a finger and thumb from one hand.

Having recovered sufficiently to give evidence, Maud Freeman took to the witness stand. She told of how, on the afternoon of their marriage, he had tried to strangle her. Later he had pinned her to the sofa with a knife at her throat, not releasing her until someone tapped on the window pane. Sober he was a good man but with drink in him a changed person. On August 27th he had forced her upstairs and threatened to kill her, even sleeping with the open knife in his hand should she attempt to move. When drunk he was a jealous and violent individual, but when sober constantly complained of pain in his arms and head.

She confirmed how that last afternoon had seen them fight as others had described. Maud added how he had grabbed her around the neck with his left arm, he was too strong for her and she could not get away. Twice he pushed the knife to her throat before laying her down and kissing her forehead whereupon she passed out. When she came around she saw him lying three feet away from her on his right side and unaware of the knife on the ground beyond him. He was clutching his throat.

The jury retired and returned to deliver their verdict. They were in no doubt the location of the knife on the far side of Herbert's body from Maud, showed beyond reasonable doubt that he had committed suicide after attempting to murder his wife.

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