Date Of Execution: 17 Nov 1903
Crime Location: Ship Hotel, Swindon
Execution Place: Devizes
Executioner: William Billington
Edward Richard Palmer was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Esther Swinford and sentenced to death.
He shot her at the Ship Hotel in Swindon where she worked on Friday 18 September 1903.
They had been acquainted for some time and had been engaged to marry with a wedding day fixed for 6 September 1902. However, it was heard that on 4 September 1902, when Esther Swinford and her landlady went by appointment to meet Edward Palmer for the purpose of going with him to purchase some furniture for their home, they found that he had made preparations to leave his lodgings and could not be found.
It was said that Esther Swinford was much upset and that later, on the afternoon of 6 September 1902, they met up an went for a stroll after which Edward Palmer disappeared from Swindon.
It was assumed from what he had said that Edward Palmer had gone off to Canada, but it was later proven that he had in fact been working at various situations in Reading, Kintbury and Marlow as a gardener between 24 September 1902 and 12 September 1903.
It was heard that he had called on a man in Swindon in May 1903 and asked him to go to the Ship Hotel with him but the man had declined saying that it was too late.
It was said that Edward Palmer had then returned to Swindon on 12 September 1903 and taken up lodgings with a woman with the intention of securing work in the works there.
The landlady of the Ship Hotel in Swindon said that on the evening of 18 September 1903, between 4.30pm and 5pm she and her husband had gone from the bar into the kitchen to have their tea, leaving Esther Swinford serving. She said that whilst they were having their tea they heard someone come into the bar and apparently ask for a bottle of bass, as they heard the cork drawer go. However, she said that shortly after she heard a shot and the sound of a thud as of someone falling. She said that when she then ran back into the bar she saw Esther Swinford lying on the floor and Edward Palmer standing by the table.
The landlady said that she then called her husband who went in and took hold of Edward Palmer.
The landlord of the Ship Hotel said that after hearing the shot and hearing his wife call for him he ran into the bar where he saw Esther Swinford lying on the floor and then caught hold of Edward Palmer round the neck. He said that when he did so Edward Palmer dropped the revolver that he had been holding on to the table.
The landlord said that he then called for someone to go for a policeman and said that Edward Palmer then said, 'You needn't do that, I done it. I loved the girl'.
When the police later searched Esther Swinford's box they found a letter to her that read, 'My Dearest Het (I can't put Miss Swinford), you will be surprised to hear from me again, but you will have heard before this that a man an I have come back from North Bay, Canada, and I am going to try and get back in the works. All I want to ask you if you will be friends, if even we meet. I should not like you to ask me in the street, and I will always be a true friend to you, if I can be no more. Hoping you are quite well and happy, God bless you, Yours, Dick'.
The police arrived at the Ship Hotel at 4.53pm and found Edward Palmer locked up in the bagatelle room.
The policeman said that when the landlord told him that Edward Palmer had shot Esther Swinford he took Edward Palmer to Esther Swinford's body and asked him if he could see what he had done and said that he then pulled Edward Palmer's hands away from his face so that he could see what he had done. At the trial the judge told the policeman that that was an improper thing to do, to which the policeman replied that Edward Palmer had appeared dazed.
When the doctor was called to the Ship Hotel he said that he found that Esther Swinford was dying and that her blouse was much burnt and that the edges of the wound were black, showing that her wound must have been caused at close range. He said that she had been shot in the front of the left breast. He had extracted the bullet which he later produced at the trial.
When the police searched Edward Palmer they found a photo of Esther Swinford on him with the the words, 'The curse of my life', written on it.
At the trial, Edward Palmer expressed a strong desire to go into the witness box and explain the unfortunate occurrence. He said that he had been working in Swindon for about six years previous to September 1902 and had first met Esther Swinford in 1900. He said that he had been engaged to marry her in September 1902 for about 11 months, at which time she was a barmaid at the Rodbourne Road Club where he used to meet her. He said that during that time he was devoted to her and that she was devoted to him.
He said that the wedding was first fixed for 6 September 1902 but that it was altered to come off on 30 August 1902, a week earlier, but that he left Swindon on 28 August 1902, two days before the wedding, because he was not in a position to find the money to buy furniture and said that he had lost money.
He said that he had returned to Swindon on 30 August 1902 and saw Esther Swinford in the evening at about 4.30pm and then left her later that evening at 8pm, noting that he had had correspondence with her since. He said that he then left Swindon on 1 September 1902 and went to Newbury and then got work in Stanford Dingley and then at Kintbury and then afterwards in Marlow.
He said that early on he received a cruel latter from Esther Swinford and that he got another letter from her in January 1903 at which time he said that they were on loving relations.
He said that he was always on friendly relations with her and said that he had visited Swindon in May 1903 and also 18 August 1903, but had not seen Esther Swinford on either day.
He said that as far as he knew, Esther Swinford was still at the Rodbourne Road Club and said that on 1 September 1903 he didn't know that Esther Swinford was at the Ship Hotel, which he said that he didn't find out until 12 September 1903.
He said that he tried to get work but could not and was going to go back to Newbury. However, he said that on the Friday afternoon he went to the Mechanics' Institute and then went from there to the Ship Hotel where he called for a bottle of Bass, saying that Esther Swinford served him.
However, he said that after serving him, when he said, 'Hello Het', Esther Swinford went off to the other side of the bar without speaking to him. He said that he then went into the parlour and called for a smoke and said that Esther Swinford came in and he took a cigar from the box and said to her, 'Hettie, aren't you going to speak to me, as I am going away tomorrow', and said that she replied, 'I don't wish to have any more to do with you'. He said then, that on an impulse of the moment, he pulled out his revolver from his pocket to frighten her and said that she dropped the cigar box and caught both of his hands in hers, saying that in the tight grip, and snatching back, the revolver exploded.
He said that he then felt stunned. He said that he was devoted to her and that he never premeditated the act.
He said that he had never threatened her before in his life and had had the revolver since April 1902 which he was accustomed to carrying loaded in his hip pocket, saying that he had formerly lived in stables and had had it for his own protection. He said that he had had no intention of harming Esther Swinford when he had gone to the Ship Hotel and had only thought that if he held the loaded revolver in her face that she would speak to him.
When he was asked at the trial why he had written, 'The curse of my life' on the photo that was found on him when he was arrested he made no answer. When he was asked again why he had written it and asked what Esther Swinford had ever done to him to make her the curse of his life, Edward Palmer said, 'I refuse to answer that question'.
At the trial it was noted that Edward Palmer had not mentioned the fact that the shooting had been accidental, and that when asked why, Edward Palmer had said that he had felt stunned at the time and had been warned that whatever he said would be used as evidence against him.
The jury retired for about 27 minutes before returning with a verdict of guilty and he was sentenced to death.
see National Archives - HO 144/728/112650