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LONDON [Vol. II]
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TRIAL OF KATHERINE WILMOT.
March sessions of the Central Criminal Court commenced upon a Monday morning, as
On the Wednesday Katherine Wilmot was placed in the
dock, to take her trial for the murder of Matilda Kenrick.
The particulars of the case had produced a great
sensation; and the door-keepers of the gallery of the court reaped a rich
harvest by the fees for admission.
Katherine was deadly pale; but she had made up her mind
to conduct herself with fortitude and her demeanour was resigned and tranquil.
Richard Markham was in the gallery of the court; but his
manner was uneasy and anxious — he had heard nothing of Benstead,
the policeman, for the preceding forty-eight hours: and not a fact had that
individual communicated to the counsel for the prisoner which might tend to
prove her innocence or even throw a doubt upon her guilt.
When called upon to answer to the indictment Katherine
pleaded, in a firm tone, "Not Guilty."
The counsel for the prosecution then stated the case,
which was supported by the following testimony: —
Henry Massey deposed: "I am a surgeon, and reside
in Great Coram Street. One evening early in February, a young female came to my
shop and purchased two ounces of laudanum. She brought no phial with her. I gave
it to her in a phial of my own, which I labelled Poison. On the following
evening I was summoned to the house of the Rev. Mr. Tracy. I was introduced into
the kitchen, where I found the deceased lying back in her chair quite dead. A
young female was there; and I recognised her to be the one who had purchased the
poison at my shop. She is the prisoner at the bar. From this circumstance and
others which transpired, I suspected her to have poisoned the deceased; and I
had her given into custody. The Rev. Mr. Tracy was in the kitchen when I
arrived. He was doing all he could to recover the deceased. He was deeply
affected. On the following day I examined the deceased, and found that she had
died by poison. That poison was laudanum. I discovered so large a quantity in
her, by the usual tests, that she must have experienced a deep lethargy almost
immediately after taking the poison, and could not have lived many minutes. I
cannot say that she did not take it voluntarily, and with the object of
committing suicide. There was nothing upon the table near her — no
cup, glass, nor any drinking vessel. The phial produced is the one in which I
sold the poison."
Thomas Parker deposed: "I am footman to the Rev.
Mr. Tracy. On the morning of the day when the housekeeper was poisoned, I
overheard a conversation between her and Katherine Wilmot. The deceased informed
Katherine that she must leave the house, but would not assign any reason.
Deceased, however, said that she would provide for Katherine at a sister's in
the country. Katherine objected to leave London, because her relations live
here. I thought Mrs. Kenrick was jealous of Katherine, and wished to get rid of
her. I mean that deceased thought that Katherine would perhaps be entrusted to
fulfil some of her duties as housekeeper. I came out of the pantry, where I was
cleaning the plate, and observed that I supposed Mrs. Kenrick was jealous of
Katherine. The housekeeper cut the matter short by saying that Katherine should
leave. Katherine was very miserable all day afterwards. In the evening my master
sent me with a letter to a gentleman at Holloway. When I came home, I found the
housekeeper dead. The first witness was there, in the kitchen. So were my
master, Katherine, and the groom. I alluded to the conversation which had taken
place between the deceased and the prisoner in the morning. The surgeon
mentioned about Katherine having bought the laudanum at his house. Katherine
seemed very much confused. She was then given into custody."
James Martin deposed: "I am groom and coachman to
the Rev. Mr. Tracy. On the evening in question I heard screams in the yard. I
was in the stable adjoining. There is a communication between the yard of the
house and the stable yard. I [-55-] hastened to the
yard of the house where the screams came from. I saw Katherine wringing her
hands and crying. I asked her what was the matter? She said, 'Mrs Kenrick is
dead.' I hurried into the kitchen. Almost immediately afterwards Mr. Tracy
came in. He had been alarmed by the screams too, he said. I found the
housekeeper lying forward on the table, with her face resting on her arms, as if
she had fallen asleep. I raised her, and laid her back in her chair. She seemed
quite dead. Mr Tracy was greatly affected. Katherine did not offer to help, but
withdrew to the farther end of the kitchen. She cried very much. Mr. Tracy sent
me for a surgeon. When I came back with the first witness, we found Mr. Tracy
bathing deceased's head with vinegar, and doing all he could to recover her.
Katherine was not assisting him." This witness then confirmed the previous
statement relative to the immediate circumstances which led to Katherine's
arrest. He concluded his testimony thus: "When I first went into the
kitchen, there were no cups, nor glasses, nor any drinking vessels on the table.
All the tea-things had been washed and put into their proper place."
The Rev. Reginald Tracy deposed: "I received the
prisoner into my service through charity. I had no character with her. I had
known her before, because she had attended the St. David's Sunday Schools. I
considered her to be a most exemplary young person. I was not aware that Mrs.
Kenrick intended to send her away. Mrs. Kenrick had the power, if she chose to
do so, as she managed my household for me. I cannot say that Katherine had done
any thing to offend Mrs. Kenrick. She had done nothing to offend me. In the
evening I was alarmed by screams. I went down into the kitchen, and found the
housekeeper in the position described by the last witness. I sent him for a
surgeon, and adopted all the remedies within my reach to recover the
housekeeper. I think I had observed that something had been preying upon the
mind of the deceased. She had lately been melancholy and abstracted."
Cross-examined: "I am not aware that Katherine went
out on the evening in question. I do not know that she visited her uncle on that
evening. I cannot say that she did not. She would not have asked me for
permission to do so. She would have applied to Mrs. Kenrick. I was unwell all
day, and did not leave my room until I heard the screams. I was very loath to
believe that Katherine could have perpetrated such a deed. I told the surgeon
A policeman deposed: "I was summoned to Mr. Tracy's
house on the evening in question. I took the prisoner into custody. When I had
conveyed her to the station-house, I returned to Mr. Tracy's house. I searched
the kitchen. I found the phial, produced in court, upon a shelf. It was
This testimony closed the case for the prosecution.
The general impression which prevailed amongst the
auditory was unfavourable to the prisoner.
Richard Markham trembled for her: still his confidence
in her innocence was unshaken.
But time wore on: the case was drawing to a close; — and
not a sign of Morris Benstead!
Markham knew not what to think.
The manner in which Reginald Tracy gave his evidence was
the subject of much comment in the gallery.
"What an amiable man he appears to be!" said
"How he endeavoured to create an impression in
favour of the prisoner," observed another.
"He said that he was loath to believe her
guilty," remarked a third, "and considered her to be an exemplary
"Hush! hush!" said the first speaker:
"the case is about to be resumed."
This was the fact. The Judges, having retired for a few
minutes, had now returned to the bench.
The counsel for the defence rose.
He began by calling upon the jury to dismiss from their
minds any prejudice which the statements in the newspapers in connexion with the
case might have created. He then dissected the evidence for the prosecution. He
insisted much upon the importance of the fact that the poison had been purchased
the evening before the conversation took place between the deceased and the
prisoner, relative to the removal of the latter from the house. His instructions
were that the prisoner had purchased that poison by order of the deceased, and
as the prisoner understood at the time, for the use of her master who had
returned home unwell. There was no proof that Katherine had done any thing
wrong, and that she might have anticipated receiving warning from the
housekeeper, and thus have actually contemplated murder when she procured the
laudanum. It was stated that there was no cup nor glass upon the table — no
drinking vessel in which poison could be traced. The inference thence drawn by
the counsel for the prosecution was that the prisoner must have administered the
poison — most probably in deceased's tea, and had then washed the
cup. But might not the deceased have taken the poison with the intention of
committing suicide, by drinking it from the phial which was found upon the
shelf? Would not the prisoner have concealed or destroyed the phial, had she
really administered the poison? The prisoner's account of the case was this.
Mrs. Kenrick of her own accord had given her permission to visit her friends for
an hour on the fatal evening. The prisoner availed herself of this kindness, and
proceeded to her uncle's residence in St. Giles's. He (the counsel) hoped to
have been able to prove the important fact of this visit, because it would show
that the housekeeper had purposely sent Katherine Wilmot out of the way; but,
unfortunately, the prisoner's uncle had not yet returned to town; and although a
letter had been sent to the place whither it was supposed that he had
proceeded — "
At that moment a great bustle was observed in the body
of the court; and a man, elbowing his way through the crowd, advanced towards
the learned counsel for the defence.
Richard's heart leapt within him: at the first glance he
recognised, in that man, his agent, Morris Benstead, dressed in plain clothes.
Benstead whispered to the barrister for some minutes,
and then handed him a letter which the learned gentleman perused rapidly and in
The most breathless suspense prevailed throughout the
"My lords," at length exclaimed the barrister,
retaining the letter in his hand, and addressing the Judges, "this case is
likely to take a most unexpected turn."
"Heaven be thanked!" murmured Richard to [-56-]
himself; "the poor creature's innocence will be made apparent — I
feel that it will!"
Meantime Morris Benstead again forced his way through
the crowd, and took his stand close by Reginald Tracy.
Poor Katherine knew not what all this meant; but her
heart beat violently with mingled emotions of hope, uncertainty, amid
"My lords," continued the barrister, "I
need not continue my speech in defence of the prisoner. I shall at once proceed
to call my witnesses."
The anxiety of the audience grew more and more intense.
"Jacob Smithers!" cried the barrister.
The Public Executioner instantly ascended into the
He deposed as follows: "The prisoner is my niece.
She called at my house on the evening alluded to. She remained with me at least
half an hour. She did not complain of Mrs. Kenrick; nor did she say that she was
to leave the Rev. Mr. Tracy's house. I remember that I was very low-spirited
myself that evening; and so I suppose she did not choose to annoy me by saying
that she was to leave. Or else, perhaps, she thought that I should wish her to
return home to me if I knew that she was to leave Mr. Tracy's service. I have
been to Belfast where I was detained some days: then I accepted an engagement to
go to the Isle of Man. I never received any letter informing me of what had
occurred to my niece. The fact is, I do not go by my right name when I travel in
that way, because I have to stop at inns, and do not like to be known. That is
probably the reason why a letter addressed to me by the name of Smithers did not
reach me. I did not see the account of this business in the newspapers until a
few days since, when I was in the Isle of Man; and I returned home as quick as
possible. I only reached London an hour ago."
"You may stand down," said the barrister:
then, after a pause, he exclaimed, "Rachel Bennet!"
An elderly woman, decently attired in mourning, but
evidently in a very sickly state of health, slowly ascended into the
She deposed: "I am the sister of the deceased, and
reside about three miles from Hounslow. I received a letter from my sister early
in February. The letter now shown me is the one." (This was the same letter
which Benstead had given to the barrister.) "On the following day I
received a letter from Mr. Tracy informing me of my sister's death, and stating
that it was supposed she had been poisoned by a young person then in custody. I
was bed-ridden with illness at the time, and was supposed to be dying. I could
not therefore come to London, or take any steps in the matter. Some one came to
me yesterday, and induced me to come to town."
The counsel for the defence then passed the letter,
which had been placed in his hands by Benstead, to the clerk of the court, by
whom it was read.
Its contents were as follow: —
"MY DEAR RACHEL,
"I hope this will find you much improved in health:
at the same time I am somewhat anxious at not having heard from you. My present
object in writing to you is to request you to receive at your house a young
person in whom I am interested, and who is at present in Mr. Tracy's service.
Katherine Wilmot is a pretty and interesting girl; and it would be unsafe for
her to remain here. You know, dear Rachel, that you and I have never had
any secret, between us; and I am not now going to break through that rule of
mutual confidence which has been the basis of our sincere attachment. The truth
is, Mr. Tracy is not what he was. He has fallen from the pinnacle of virtue
which he once so proudly occupied; and it was only this morning that I had the
most convincing proof of his weakness and folly! O Rachel — I met
him and his mistress face to face upon the stairs! But I will not dwell upon
this: I sincerely pray to heaven that he may repent, and become the good man he
once was. I know that this secret will be sacred with you. But I am determined
to remove from him all temptations, as far as lies in my humble power; and you
may how comprehend my motive, for sending Katherine Wilmot away from this house.
In a word, I shall despatch her to you by tomorrow's coach; and will write at
greater length by her.
"Your affectionate Sister,
This letter produced a most extraordinary sensation in
The Judges, the barrister, the prisoner, and the
audience were astounded at this revelation of the weakness of that man whom the
world almost worshipped as a saint.
"Ellen was right!" murmured Richard Markham to
himself: "he is a hypocrite! But I never could have thought it!"
And what of Reginald himself?
The moment the clerk reached that paragraph which
proclaimed the astounding fact of his unworthiness, a cold perspiration broke
out upon his forehead; and he turned to leave the court.
But Morris Benstead caught him by the arm, and pointing
to a seat, said, "You must remain here, if you please, sir: I am an
The rector cast a look of unutterable dismay upon the
policeman, and fell upon the bench in a state of mind bordering on distraction.
Meantime the case proceeded.
The counsel for the prosecution said that he should like
to ask Rachel Bennet a few questions.
That witness accordingly returned to the box.
"Why did you not empower some one to produce that
letter when the prisoner was examined before the magistrate?" inquired the
"Because, sir, I did not conceive that it could be
of any use. I never for a moment suspected that any other person besides the one
accused could have taken away my poor sister's life. My husband proposed to send
the letter to the magistrate; but as my sister had written to me in strict
confidence, I would not consent to that step. And now, since you have asked me,
sir, I will tell you what I really did think; and God forgive me if I
have been unjust."
"We do not want to hear what you thought,"
exclaimed the prosecuting counsel. "You may stand down."
"No," cried the barrister for the defence;
"as we are upon the subject, we will have the witness's impressions."
"I really thought, sir," continued the woman,
"that the Katherine Wilmot alluded to was perhaps no better than she should
be, and had become more intimate with Mr. Tracy than my poor sister suspected.
That, I thought, was the reason why she had poisoned my sister in order to get
her out of the way, and for herself to remain at Mr. Tracy's house. But I did
not think that Mr. Tracy himself had any hand in the murder; and so I did not [-57-]
see the good of producing a letter which would only expose Mr. Tracy."
"Now you may stand down," said the counsel for
the prisoner: then, in a loud tone, he called, "John Smithers!"
And Gibbet entered the witness-box.
His first glance was towards the dock; and that look,
rapid, and imperceptible to others, conveyed a world of hope to the bosom of
Richard Markham was at a loss to conceive what testimony
the hump-back could bring forward in the prisoner's favour.
Every one present felt the deepest interest in the turn
given to the proceedings.
The hump-back stood upon a stool that there was in the
witness-box; and even then his head was alone visible. His hideous countenance,
pale and ghastly through his intense feelings for Katherine's situation, was
nevertheless animated with confidence and hope.
Amidst a dead silence of awe-inspiring solemnity, he
deposed as follows: —
"I am the prisoner's cousin. She has ever been most
kind to me; and I was always happy in her society. When she went to live at Mr.
Tracy's house. I thought that I should be able to see her every evening; but on
one occasion Mr. Tracy met me, and said that I might only visit her on Sundays.
I had, however, discovered an obscure corner in his yard, where I could hide
myself and see all that passed in the kitchen of his house. I went to that
corner regularly every evening, Sunday excepted; and remained there an
hour — sometimes more. I did not want to pry into what was going on
in Mr. Tracy's house: all I cared about was to see Katherine."
A murmur, expressive of deep feeling — mingled
surprise, sympathy, and admiration — on the part of the audience,
followed this ingenuous announcement. Many an eye was moistened with a tear; and
even the Judges did not look angrily when that murmur met their ears.
"One evening when I was concealed in the corner, I
saw Mrs. Kenrick address something to Katherine, which I could not hear; but
immediately afterwards Katherine put on her bonnet and went [-58-]
out. As I had sometimes seen her do so before, and return very shortly
afterwards, I thought she had merely gone to execute some little commission; and
I remained where I was. Although Katherine used to pass through the yard, and
close by me, when she went out in that manner, I never spoke to her, for fear
she should reprove me for what she might think was watching her actions.
Immediately after she was gone, Mrs. Kenrick laid the tea things; and in a few
minutes Mr. Tracy entered the kitchen. He and the housekeeper sate down to tea.
Mrs. Kenrick was pouring out the tea, when Mr. Tracy said something which made
her pause. She then put down the tea-pot, fetched a coffee-biggin, and made some
coffee. She filled two cups, and then turned towards the shelves to fetch a
small jug, which I thought contained milk. But while her back was turned, I saw
Mr. Tracy hastily put his hand into his waistcoat pocket, and then as rapidly
advance his hand to Mrs. Kenrick's cup. All that was the work of only one
moment; and I could not distinctly see why he did so. In fact I did not think
much of it, until afterwards. Mrs. Kenrick resumed her seat; and she and Mr.
Tracy drank their coffee. I observed that Mrs. Kenrick took no milk, and drank
hers very quickly. In a short time I saw her head begin to nod as if she was
sleepy: she got up, and walked about. Then she sate down again, and placed her
arms on the table as if to support herself. In a short time her head fell
forward on her arms. I felt a little alarmed; but still scarcely knew why. Mr.
Tracy watched her for some minutes after she had fallen forward in that manner,
and then bent down his head to look at her face. In another moment he rose, and
to my surprise washed up all the things on the table and placed them upon the
shelves. Then I began to fear that something was wrong; and I stole away. When I
got home I found my father rather cross with me for staying out; and I was
afraid to tell him what I had seen. Early the next morning we left for Ireland;
and I never had courage to speak to my father upon this subject until we read
the account of the murder and of Katherine's arrest. That was in the Isle of
The reader may imagine the profound sensation which this
Richard Markham was literally astounded.
Katherine Wilmot wept abundantly.
Reginald Tracy was crushed, as it were, to the very
dust, by this overwhelming exposure of his guilt.
The Jury whispered together for a few moments; and the
foreman rose and said, "My lords, it is rather as a matter of form than as
the result of any deliberation, that we pronounce a verdict of Not
"The prisoner is discharged," said the senior
judge. "It will be the duty of the police to take charge of Reginald
"I have him in custody, my lord." exclaimed
Morris Benstead in a loud tone.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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