Pascoe & Whitty - Britain’s penultimate hangings.


Russell Pascoe, aged 24 and 22 year old Dennis John Whitty were jointly convicted of the murder of 64 year old William Garfield Rowe at Nanjarrow Farm at Constantine near Falmouth in Cornwall on Wednesday the 14th of August 1963.  Pascoe had lived in Constantine and Whitty at St. Keverne.  Gossip in the village was that William Rowe was quite wealthy and kept his money in the house.  A photo of the pair is here, Pascoe is on the left and Whitty on the right.


At the time of the murder, Pascoe was living in a caravan at Kenwyn Caravan Park near Truro with Whitty and three young girls.  Whitty was working as a labourer at Truro Gas Works. Pascoe had previously worked at Nanjarrow Farm and knew William Rowe.  He had also carried out a previous burglary there.  Pascoe told Whitty about the local rumour of William Rowes’ money and they decided to take it.  The pair went to the farm on Whitty’s motorbike and arrived at around 11 pm.  They told Mr. Rowe that one of them, wearing a motorcycle helmet, was a helicopter pilot and that the other was his passenger, both bound for Landsend.  The helicopter had broken down and they saw the light in the house and wanted to use the phone. 

They then battered William Rowe with an iron bar and a car starting handle and stabbed him several times, including once in the throat.  His body was discovered in the doorway of an outhouse the following morning by a Truro cattle dealer who had come to pick up two cows.


Pascoe and Whitty managed to find just £4 in the house plus a watch and a few other items, although a further £3000 was later located, stashed away.  Pascoe was arrested at a police road checkpoint riding the motorbike on the 16th of August having been tipped off by one of the three girls.  The police recognised him and were suspicious of the answers he gave to their questions.  He was taken to the police station and confessed to taking part in the crime.  Whitty was arrested a few days later.  Both blamed the other for the murder.  The post-mortem revealed that William Rowe had suffered skull fractures, a broken jaw, a severed finger and five stab wounds to the chest, one of which punctured his heart and killed him.


The three 19 year old girls that Pascoe and Whitty were living with were found to know quite a lot about the crime.  Whitty’s girlfriend told police that she brought home the evening paper and showed it to him, asking “Did you do that?” to which he replied “Yes, I did.”


Three days later, they made the first of their remand appearances before Penryn magistrates, with their arrival witnessed by several hundred people.


They were tried at the Cornwall Assizes in Bodmin, before Mr. Justice Thesiger, between the 29th of October and the 2nd of November 1963.  Norman Brodrick prosecuted and James Comyn and Norman Skelhorn defended.  Pascoe told the court that he had only hit Mr. Rowe once with the iron bar and that it was Whitty he had continued the beating and done the stabbing.  Whitty claimed that he had stabbed Mr. Rowe because he was in fear of Pascoe.  The defence was one of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, which had become a defence under the Homicide Act of 1957.  Unsurprisingly the jury found them both equally guilty, after four and a half hours of deliberation.


On conviction, Pascoe was sent to Horfield prison in Bristol to await execution and Whitty to Winchester prison as Bodmin had long since ceased to have an execution facility.


Whitty and Pascoe's appeals were heard and rejected on the 23rd of November 1963.

Simultaneously at 8 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday the 17th of December they were led to the gallows.  Pascoe was hanged by Harry Allen and Royston Rickard and Whitty by Robert Stewart and Harry Robinson.  Outside Horfield prison in Bristol there was a considerable demonstration, with Tony Benn, the Labour MP for Bristol South East, and the Bishop of Bristol, the Right Reverend Oliver Tomkins present.  Here is the front page of the Bristol Evening Post.


Double hangings (side by side) had been outlawed by the Homicide Act of 1957 and where ordered, were to be carried out simultaneously in different prisons.


Robert Douglas was one of the death watch warders at Bristol and wrote about Pascoe in his book titled At Her Majesty's Pleasure.  Here is an extract :

“I can remember saying to Ken [Russell, another guard], ‘I’m not looking forward to this shift — I mean, what the hell are we going to talk about all evening?’ I was only 24 years old myself at the time, and we had built up a good relationship with Pascoe over the previous six weeks – playing cards and Monopoly and listening to the radio.

We went into the cell, and I asked Russell if he wanted a cup of tea. He said he didn’t. So I tried to coax him – ‘I’ve brought you a cream doughnut’ – I’d brought him a cream cake each day as a little treat. With that, he perked up a little and said, ‘ah go on then, I’ll have a tea’.

So we sat drinking tea for a while, none of us really saying anything. Just blathering about nothing to try to fill the silences.

Then Russell suddenly said, ‘They weighed me today, so they’ll know how far I’ll drop.’ Ken and I just looked at each other – what are you meant to say to that?”

More of Robert Douglas’ recollections of Pascoe can be found here.


William Garfield Rowe was conscripted into the Army in 1917, during World War I, but deserted and returned home a week later.  He lived at Venton Vedna Farm at Porthleven with his parents but he was arrested and sent to a military detention centre on the Isle of Wight.  He managed to escape and went into hiding.  He remained thus, working on his parent’s farm at night until a General Amnesty was granted in 1956.  When his parents died he moved to Nanjarrow Farm.  It was widely accepted locally that he had died during the war, and it was only after the granting of the Amnesty that he could tell the world that he had not died 39 years earlier.


Back to Contents Page.