Sunday, 29 April 2018

Suicide Note

On the evening of November 1st 1911, Mrs Cole of 33 Stowe Street, Lichfield opened the door to find Master Marshall. The young lad clutched a note marked URGENT which he said had been given to him by a "big boy" earlier that day with instructions not to deliver it until the evening. By now a Mr Griffin, having found a neatly folded jacket and cap on the canal bridge at Shortbutts Lane, had found what he presumed was the owner of the discarded clothing under that bridge having drowned in the canal.

Earlier William Henry Mears, aged just sixteen, had left the offices of Mr C. J. Brown, a solicitor of St John Street, for whom he had worked for the last six weeks. William was the son of a widower but since the death of his mother in Hanley two years earlier had lived with his aunt, Mrs Cole. He had left his employer's offices at 1:30pm that day. When Mrs Cole opened the note she found it contained the following message: "Dear Aunt - I am tired of Lichfield. I am starting with chilblains again and I can't stand it. With best love your broken-hearted nephew, Willie. Give my love to cousin Sarah and all. I have no fault against my aunt. You will find me in the canal up the Birmingham Road. I would sooner die happy than live miserable."

At the subsequent inquest the aunt told of how he had complained of voices in his head and seemed quite stupid. He was deaf in one ear and restless at night. He suffered badly of chilblains the previous year, the discomfort causing him to cut his hand, his ear, feet, legs and arms to rid himself of the torture. With the advent of winter he complained often of how much he feared they would return. It seems he had returned to his aunt's house that afternoon, presumably when he wrote the note. He was seen by his aunt's cook, Louisa Phillips. He brought her a parcel, saying in contained chocolates but when she opened it found it contained shampoo powder. Next to see him was Mr Gilbert who pulled him from the bottom of the canal but he was stone cold.

The coroner in his summing up noted how the note had been dated two days prior to his death but thought this was likely because he had not known the correct date. This seems odd considering how erudite the letter and accurate the punctuation. However he went on to make even more extraordinary comments. Telling of how he had recently sat on another case of a young person committing suicide and wondered if this was not the result of them becoming "overly educated". The coroner also asked if young William had read the newspapers as, if so, could consider this to be further evidence of "a copycat suicide".

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