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Female Murderer Constance Kent

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Female Murderer Constance Kent

Post by Karen on Wed 6 Apr 2011 - 8:50


Some forty-four years ago there resided at the little village of Road in Somersetshire, England, a certain Mr. Samuel Savile Kent. He was a deputy inspector of factories, and a man, therefore, of some standing and position.
Mr. Kent had been twice married. By his first wife he had four children living, a boy and three girls. One of these latter was named Constance Emilie - a strange sullen, wayward, wilful girl of sixteen.
From the very first Constance had conceived an intense dislike to her stepmother. And, besides, she was wont to play all sorts of mad pranks.
For instance! One day in 1856, when she was but twelve years of age, she had cut her hair short, donned a suit of boy's clothes, and, taking her younger brother with her, had run away to Bath.
There were other similar escapades chronicled against her, and they were remembered presently. It was also recalled that her mother, the first Mrs. Kent, had died insane in an asylum.
The elder children, including, of course, Constance, had separate bedrooms of their own. The two youngest, a baby in arms and little Francis Savile Kent, aged four, slept in the nursery with their nurse, who was an exceedingly devout and very respectable person, named Elizabeth Gough, three-and-twenty years of age.
About five in the morning this young woman awoke. It was then broad daylight, and she at once noticed that Savile's cot was empty.
Her first thought was to alarm the household. But then - so she averred later - it occurred to her that Mrs. Kent, who was very fidgety about her children, might have entered the nursery during the night, perhaps hearing the boy cry, or cough, and have carried him to her own room. So she composed herself to sleep again.
An hour and a half later she rose and dressed; then, having washed and dressed the baby, proceeded to knock at her mistress' door.
"Who is there?" responded the voice of Mrs. Kent. "What is it?"
"Please, ma'am," queried the girl, "is Master Savile with you?"
"With me? Certainly not."
"Well, ma'am," came the trembling reply, "he is not in the nursery."
Within a minute or two, as may well be imagined, the whole house was in an uproar. The place was thoroughly searched from garret to basement. But no trace of the missing child could be discovered.
Moreover it became quickly evident that there had been foul play. The drawing-room door, locked by Mr. Kent overnight, was wide open. The shutters of the same room had been unclasped, and the window was a little way up. Yet no glass was broken, no force had apparently been used, and there were no footsteps traceable in the garden outside.
The distracted father ordered his carriage, and drove full gallop to Trowbridge, the nearest police-station. Meanwhile the servants had spread the alarm among the villagers, and soon parties of volunteer searchers were busy.
Two men, Benger and Nutt, made an examination of the grounds, and the first-named, on entering a shed situated in a shrubbery some thirty yards from the house, came upon a big pool of partly-congealed blood.
Further search revealed the body of the child, terribly mutilated.
The police soon arrived in charge of Superintendent Foley, the chief of the Trowbridge force. He quickly came to the conclusion that the crime had been committed by someone in the house, and his suspicions were directed against the nurse, Elizabeth Gough.
She was accordingly arrested, but for want of evidence against her was speedily released. Meanwhile the coroner's jury had returned a verdict of wilful murder by some person or persons unknown, and the local police confessed themselves entirely non-plussed.
In this dilemma the authorities at Scotland Yard were appealed to. They sent down Detective-Inspector Whicher, and he re-opened the entire case from the very beginning.
This was on the 15th of July. On the 16th he had made up his mind as to the identity of the murderer. It was, he was certain, Constance Kent. On the 18th he had elicited the fact - undiscovered by the local police - that one of this young woman's nightdresses was unaccountably missing. Forty-eight hours later he had her arrested, and lodged in Devizes Gaol. She cried and said she was not guilty.
Constance was remanded again and again, owing to conflicting evidence. And presently came to light an astounding piece of evidence - or what was at the time regarded as such.
A woman's under garment, dirty and bloodstained, had, it appeared, been found long previously by Superintendent Foley concealed in the boiler-furnace of the scullery at the house occupied by the Kents.
That officer had come to the conclusion that it had nothing to do with the case. And, as the result proved in the end, he was right.
It transpired that the garment in question could not be identified as belonging to anyone about the place.
Consequently, it was now argued, the murder was done by some stranger outside.
Constance was released. And Detective-Inspector Whicher was overwhelmed with abuse as an officious and meddlesome bungler.
Other officers were sent down, fresh investigations were set on foot, and as a result poor Elizabeth Gough, now in service at Isleworth, was again arrested.
She was brought before the magistrates in October, nearly thirty witnesses were examined, but not a single new fact was elicited.
One of the principal witnesses for the prosecution was Constance Kent herself. Amongst other things she swore that she was passionately fond of the dead child, and that on the very evening of the murder she had been romping with him in the nursery.
Eventually, Elizabeth was set at liberty, and tears streamed from her eyes as some of the greatest lawyers in the land pressed forward to shake her by the hand and assured her of their belief in her entire innocence.
Late in the following month a last effort was made to establish the identity of the unknown assassin. The Attorney-General moved in the Court of Queen's Bench to quash the verdict of the coroner's jury, and for the issue of a writ to enable a body of special commissioners to examine witnesses and make fresh inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the case.
There was much argument for and against. But in the end the Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Cockburn, refused the application. And the mystery was finally dismissed as one incapable of solution.
Nearly five years came and went, and then, one day towards the end of April, 1865, came the news that Constance Kent had confessed.
She was at the time a guest at St. Mary's Home, Brighton, an Anglican Convent, established in connection with St. Paul's Church.
To the Rev. Mr. Wagner, the spiritual director of this establishment, she told her terrible story.
Jealousy of her little brother, and a desire to be revenged upon her stepmother, had prompted her to the deed.
She had carefully planned it long previously, had purloined and hidden one of her father's razors; and had also abstracted from the washing-basket one of her nightdresses, foreseeing that she would probably be more or less covered with the child's blood. This garment she had afterwards burnt in her own bedroom, putting the ashes in the kitchen grate.
The actual murder was committed shortly after midnight. She carried her baby brother from the nursery - sleeping, and wrapped in a blanket - through the drawing-room, and round to the shed at the back of the house.
Arrived there, she lit a candle she had previously secreted, killed the child, and returned to the house quite unobserved. The woman's under garment which had been found in the scullery, had, she added, no connection with the affair whatever.
The prisoner was tried for her life on her own confession before Mr. Justice Willes at the Salisbury Assizes. The date was the 20th July, 1865, five years to the day from her first arrest.
She was dressed plainly in sombre black, and her face was pale, but determined. She pleaded guilty to the indictment, and was sentenced to death, her judge bursting into tears as he pronounced the terrible words.
Constance, it was said, desired to expiate her crime with her life, and particularly requested that no efforts might be made to obtain a reprieve.
Nevertheless, it was felt on all hands that it was a case in which it would be inexpedient to exact the extreme penalty of the law. And, indeed, her sentence was commuted to penal servitude almost immediately.
She was released on July 18th, 1885, after a captivity of twenty years' duration and, it is said, is now living under an assumed name in an Anglican Convent. - Pearson's Weekly.

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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