Dorothea Nancy Waddingham - “Nurse Waddingham”.
Dorothea was born at Hucknall
near Nottingham in 1900 and after leaving
school worked in a factory for a while before taking up a post at the Burton on
Trent Workhouse infirmary in Staffordshire.
Here she picked up quite a lot of medical knowledge whilst working on
the wards and afterwards passed herself off a nurse. She married Thomas Leech in 1925 and they had
three children, Edwin, Alan and Mary over their eight year marriage. Thomas developed cancer of the throat and
died in 1930. A Home Office file states
that "she had five previous convictions for obtaining money by
fraud", but gives no further details.
During her first marriage she served at least one prison term for these
offences. In the
Nottinghamshire Murder Casebook by David Bell the author states that Dorothea
was given probation for theft in 1925 for stealing some toothbrushes; then
(year not stated) she was given probation for fraud (ordering goods on credit
with no intention of paying); and says thirdly she got three months in prison
for theft (taking an employee's watch to a pawn-shop without her consent).
Click here for a
picture of her in her nurse’s uniform.
After Thomas Leech’s death Dorothea reverted
to her maiden name and formed a relationship with their erstwhile lodger,
Ronald Sullivan, who was six years her senior. Together they decided to open a
nursing home at 32 Devon Drive,
This was recognised by the county authorities who considered Dorothea a
competent nurse. On the 12th of January
of 1935 a Miss Blagg of the County Nursing
Association asked them to take a couple of new patients for thirty shillings
(£1.50) a week. The newcomers were
Louisa Baguley, a widow of eighty nine and her
who was fifty. Ada was disabled by
a progressive disease that left her unable to walk and her elderly mother could
no longer look after her. At the time
there was one other resident, Mrs. Kemp, who died in February leaving Dorothea
with a wholly inadequate income of just the thirty shillings a week. Ronald
helped Dorothea run the nursing home and the couple were to have two children
of their own.
On the 4th of May, Ada summoned her
solicitor, Mr. Lane
and told him she wished to change her will.
She was to leave all of her savings, some £1,600, to Dorothea and Ronald
on the condition that they would look after both Louisa and herself for the
rest of their lives. It is unclear
was persuaded/pressurised by Dorothea to take this
step or whether she had decided on this course herself. It had been suggested that Dorothea had
threatened to send the two women to the workhouse as she couldn’t afford to
keep them. The workhouse would have been
a dreadful threat in Ada’s
Just eight days later on Sunday the 12th of
May, Louisa died of what was determined to be cardio-vascular problems. In a woman of nearly ninety this did not
arouse any suspicion and a death certificate allowing her burial was issued.
to live happily at Devon Drive
through the summer of 1935 and was visited by a friend of hers, Mrs. Briggs, on
Tuesday the 10th of September who found her in good spirits. The following morning Dorothea called Dr.
Mansfield, Ada’s doctor, and told him that Ada had gone into a
coma. When he arrived Ada had died and he
thought that she had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. Dorothea showed him a letter that she had
written on the 29th of August, expressing her wish to be cremated. Dr. Mansfield issued a death certificate and
also certificate permitting cremation.
The two certificates together with Ada’s
letter were sent to the crematorium where they were read by Nottingham’s
Medical Officer for Health, Dr. Cyril Banks.
He noted that the words “my last wish is that my relatives shall not
know of my death” appeared to have been inserted after the original letter had
been written as they were in a cramped style.
Ronald Sullivan had written the letter for Ada but she had
signed it. Dr. Banks was unhappy with
the letter and reported his suspicions to the Coroner Wilfred Rothera who ordered a post mortem. This was carried out at Leenside
Mortuary by Dr. Leonard Taylor and Dr. O’Donovan. Some of Ada’s organs were
sent away for toxicological examinations and revealed that Ada had actually
been poisoned with morphine, over 3 grains being found. Further samples were tested by the Home
Office’s Senior Analyst, Dr. Gerald Roche Lynch who confirmed the levels of
morphine. Louisa’s remains were
therefore also exhumed on Monday the 30th of September and Dr. Roche Lynch
found morphine in her too. A formal
inquest was held on the two victims, concluding on the 30th of January 1936,
which returned a verdict of murder against both Dorothea and Ronald who were immediately
arrested and charged with the murders. Dorothea had recently given birth to her
fifth child and nursed it while on remand.
The couple appeared before Mr. Justice
Goddard at Nottinghamshire Assizes on the 24th of February. Mr. Norman Birkett
led the prosecution and Mr. J. F. Eales the
defence. Ronald was discharged by the
judge on the second day of the trial due to a lack of any real evidence against
him, leaving Dorothea to face trial alone.
The court heard the forensic evidence of morphine poisoning and the
testimony of Mrs. Briggs and Dr. Mansfield.
Dorothea’s defence suggested that Dr. Mansfield had given her morphine
tablets for Ada
for when she was in pain. Dr. Mansfield
strongly denied having given any tablets to Dorothea for Ada, especially
morphine. Dorothea described to the
court the last two days of Ada’s
life. According to Dorothea Ada was depressed and in great pain so she had given her up
to ten tablets over two days and in the early hours of the Wednesday morning
found her in a coma. This information
was contained in a statement made to the police on the 24th of September, after
the post mortem result was known.
Previously Dorothea had told the police that Ada had eaten a
large lunch on the Tuesday and appeared to be well. Dorothea’s evidence was less than convincing
as was her general performance in the witness box. She admitted in court to throwing away the
bottle and medicine glass that Ada had last used.
On the third day of the trial the jury took
two and a quarter hours to reach a guilty verdict and
for whatever reason added a recommendation to mercy. Mr. Justice Rayner
Goddard sentenced Dorothea to death and presumably did not concur with the
jury’s recommendation in his written report to the Home Office. There was an unwritten rule in the Home
Office that poisoners should not be reprieved and Dorothea was one of four
women hanged in the 20th century for this crime. The Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, announced on the 14th of April that
there would be no reprieve.
Nottingham no longer had an execution facility after 1928 so Dorothea was
transferred to the condemned suite in C Wing of Birmingham’s Winson Green
prison to await her fate, where she was prisoner No. 912. Her appeal was heard before Lord Justice Hewart, and Justices Humphreys and Du Parcq
at the Court of Criminal Appeal in London. She was not present at this hearing. It was dismissed on the 30th of March and the
execution was set for 8 a.m. on Thursday the 16th of April 1936. Dorothea was
the only woman ever to be hanged at Winson Green.
Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew
Albert, carried out the hanging. It was to be Thomas’ last female execution and
Dorothea was weighed and measured the day before and was recorded at 4’ 11”
tall and 123 1/2 lbs in weight. She was
thus given a drop of 8’ 5”. Large numbers of people had gathered outside the
prison on the Wednesday afternoon to protest the execution of a mother of five,
even though she had poisoned two vulnerable people for financial gain. The
protest was led by the noted anti capital punishment campaigner, Mrs. Violet
Van der Elst. By the
Thursday morning the crowd outside the prison had grown to an estimated 2,000
and their hymns could be heard within.
Some 500 police were present to keep order. Mrs. Van der Elst was driven round the prison
in her chauffer driven Rolls Royce followed by two lorries
carrying loud speakers blaring out hymns and placards reading “Prevent the
hanging of a mother” and “Stop the terrible crime of hanging the mother of five
On the stroke of 9.00 a.m. Thomas
Pierrepoint entered her cell and pinioned her wrists. She would then have been led through the
double doors into the adjacent execution chamber where Thomas would have put
the white hood over her head followed by the noose, whilst Albert strapped her
legs. When the preparations were
complete Thomas removed the safety pin from the base of the lever and pushed
the lever away from him to release the trap doors.
By 9.01 a.m. Dorothea was hanging limply in
the drop room and was examined by the prison doctor using a stethoscope to
listen to her heartbeat. The execution chamber was locked up for an hour. The LPC4 form unusually records both
fracture/dislocation of the cervical vertebrae and asphyxia as the causes of
death. It also notes that she had a
muscular neck and that there was a “slight splitting of the skin on the right
side of the neck.” The Pierrepoints returned at nine o’clock and undressed her and
put a rope around her body under her arms, lifting her up with a block and
tackle attached to the chain on the gallows beam, for removal of the noose and
hood. Her body was then lowered onto a
stretcher and made ready for the formal inquest held later that morning. Dorothea was buried in the prison grounds,
probably around lunchtime, as was normal practice.
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