Louisa Jane Taylor.
Louisa Jane Taylor was convicted of the murder by poisoning of Mrs Mary Ann Tregellis at Plumstead in the Borough of Greenwich. Click here for picture of her.
Louisa’s husband and Ann’s husband had been work colleagues, both working for HM Customs. The two couples had got to know each other, although there was a substantial age difference, the Tregellis’ were in their 80’s and Louisa was 34 or 36 – reports vary. In March 1883 Louisa’ husband, Thomas, died and on the 4th of August she had contacted the Tregellis’ telling them she was ill and asking to come and stay with them for a few days at the home they rented at No. 3 Naylor’s Cottages in Plumstead. She slept in Mary Ann’s bed while William Tregellis slept in the other room. She purported to nurse Mary Ann and stayed with them until early October when Mr. Tregellis reported Louisa to the police for stealing items from the house which she took to pawn shops.
On Friday, the 6th October Louisa was arrested by PC Edward Glanville for stealing two dresses, a petticoat, a shawl, and a pair of boots, which she admitted to having pawned. On arrival at Woolwich police station she was searched and found to have 10 pawn tickets on her.
A day or two later Mrs. Tregellis was found in a state of collapse and near to death. However she recovered enough to give a deposition (statement). Louisa was taken by the magistrate to hear the deposition being given. It is as reproduced verbatim below.
"Mary Ann Tregellis on oath saith as follows: I live at 3, Naylor's Cottages, Plumstead. I am the wife of William Tregellis. Prisoner has been living in the house about six months, not as a servant. She has slept with me all the time she has been in the house. I was always in good health before she came. I became poorly first about three months ago. I felt queer and sick, and the doctor ordered me some medicine. Mrs. Taylor always gave me the medicine; I could not say whether she took it out of a bottle; she took it out of this bottle—two tablespoonfuls. It caused me to be very sick after taking it. I felt sick three months ago after taking the medicine. I saw two bottles used at a time, both of this size. The doctor ordered me one bottle at a time to be used every four hours. I saw some white powder put in by Mrs. Taylor; I tasted it, and said 'I can't take that; it is nauseous stuff, and as sour as vinegar. 'I took it, one dose; I don't know whether it was two or not; I won't say for certain. I know now it was two doses. I went to take some more. I said 'I can't take that; it will kill me. 'I saw it was a kind of a white mixed powder. I feel sure it was two doses. I only saw her mix it once with the powder. I haven't seen her do anything to the medicine after the occasion I mentioned. It made me quite ill, and quite in a stupor. In about an hour after I felt a burning heat in my throat. I was very sick indeed; black vomit came up about an hour after I took the medicine. I thought I tasted the same medicine again afterwards, but not so strong. I was sick again two months ago after taking the medicine. "
On Tuesday the 10th of October Louisa was remanded in custody at Woolwich Magistrates Court on a charge of systematically administering sugar of lead or some other poison. However when Ann died on the 23rd of October the charge was up-rated to murder and she re-appeared at Woolwich Magistrates Court on Friday the 27th of October. Evidence was given of a blue line around Ann’s gums which is a clear indicator of lead poisoning and the court was told that some of her organs had been sent to Guy’s Hospital for analysis. On November the 22nd an inquest jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Louisa.
Louisa was housed at Her Majesty's Gaol of Clerkenwell to await trial, which took place at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Stephen on the 11th of December 1882. Messrs. Poland and Montagu Williams prosecuted with Messrs. Walton and White for the defence.
William Tregellis gave evidence of the thefts and of his wife’s deteriorating health and eventual death.
Matilda Stubberfield Smith whose husband was Dr. John Smith who had treated Mary Ann, told the court that Louisa had purchased sugar-of-lead from their shop in the second week of August and that it was clearly labelled as poison. She made further purchases and also got a friend named Edward Martin to buy some on her behalf in mid September.
A number of other witnesses, including policemen were called to testify against her over the course of the two day trial and detailed forensic evidence was presented by Dr. Thomas Stevenson regarding the amount of lead in Mary Ann’s organs.
On Friday the 15th of December the jury convicted Louisa after just twenty minutes of deliberation without a recommendation to mercy, unusual in the case of a woman at this time. Mr. Justice Stephen sentenced her to death and told her that the murder was “cruel, treacherous and hypocritical.”
She was duly returned to Maidstone Prison
as Plumstead was in
As was usual in poisoning cases there would be no reprieve and the execution was set for Tuesday the 2nd of January 1883. Other than her solicitor, Louisa had no visitors in the condemned cell. She reportedly told Miss Davis, the matron in charge of her, that she was prepared to die. On the Tuesday morning she was moved from the female wing to a cell near the gallows where she was visited by the chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Leighton. Her courage failed her when she was led out into the prison yard and saw the gallows and she had to be supported on the drop while William Marwood made the preparations. Her last words were “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” He gave her a drop of around eight feet and death was “instantaneous”. The black flag was displayed above the prison and after hanging for an hour her body was taken down for inquest and burial. It was reported that very few members of the public were outside the prison to see the death notice put up.
Her motive for the killing may have been money but equally
may have been the sadistic pleasure of watching Mary Ann die
slowly from lead poisoning. Lead is a very inefficient poison requiring many
administrations over a long period to kill its victim. It is and was then
easily detected. The financial gain from killing Mary Ann could have been small
at best as the Tregellis' were quite poor and lived
only on William's pension of 19 shillings a week (95p) .
So one is left with the alternative motive, that she did it
for pleasure and the ability to wield the power of life and death over another
person. There was also a strong suspicion that Louisa’s husband had been
poisoned by her, but this was never proven. In any event, Louisa was to be the
last woman executed at
William Tregellis went to Woolwich Police Court on the day Louisa was executed and sought an order for the return of his property from various pawnbrokers. This was granted by the magistrate who sent a policeman with him to help regain the various items.
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