British Executions

Bernard White

Age: 21

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 1 Dec 1903

Crime Location: Warley Gap, Warley Common, Brentwood

Execution Place: Chelmsford

Method: hanging

Executioner: William Billington


Bernard White was convicted of the murder of Maud Garrett 20 and sentenced to death.

He beat her to death on 22 May 1903 at Warley Gap in Brentwood. He was a private in the 2nd Essex Regiment.

He was said to have lured her to the spot where he killed her and then beaten her around the head. She had six wounds on her left cheek that were probably caused by a cane and blood was later found on Bernard White's cane. It was also stated that he had inserted his cane violently into Maud Garrett's vagina so far that it pierced her liver. Her jaw was also broken, she had teeth knocked out and her left eye socket was fractured. Blood was also later found on Bernard White's trousers, boots and socks.

The murder was known as the Warley Gap Murder.

For his defence Bernard White said that he was in his tent at camp at the time when screams from the area were heard.

After his conviction on 13 November 1903 at the Essex Assizes the police report stated that the only mitigating factor was the question of his sanity but the Home Secretary did not interfere with his sentence and he was executed at Chelmsford on 1 December 1903.

After Bernard White was convicted and was asked whether he had anything to say, he said, 'I did not kill the girl'. After he was sentenced he wheeled round in military style and marched quickly out of the dock.

Whilst he denied the murder at his trial, he later confessed to doctors during a medical interview on 24 November 1903 after his conviction and sentencing.

Bernard White and Maud Garrett had known each other in 1901 but for the previous 13 months whilst Bernard White was in South Africa Maud Garrett had started walking out with another private who had been in the RAM Corps.

However, they met again on 21 May 1903, apparently for the first time since Bernard White's return. At that time the other private that Maud Garrett had been seeing was in hospital and Maud Garrett seemed to have become tired of visiting him there.

It was said then that on the evening of 22 May 1903 that Bernard White and Maud Garrett met again and Maud Garrett's body was found the following day, 23 May 1903, showing signs of what was described as the most barbarous violence.

The police report stated that the murder was brought to Bernard White by a mass of evidence but Bernard White denied murdering her and his defence at the trial claimed that there was not sufficient evidence for a conviction coupled with the suggestion that a civilian had been seen near the scene of the murder who might have committed it.

When the judge summed up at the trial he said that the evidence was clearly against Bernard White and the jury arrived at their verdict in 50 minutes.

The police report to the Home Secretary regarding the possibility of a reprieve the police noted that whilst the question of sanity was not raised at the trial, it required consideration as the crime was marked by extraordinary brutality, her death being caused by a cane that had been thrust twice up the vagina as far as the liver and injuries to her head that had probably been caused by repeated kicks.

It was added that no sufficient motive was discovered and that when Bernard White had come back to his tent on the night of 22 May 1903 he had said to his comrades that Maud Garrett had 'done him a stinker'.

It was also determined that Bernard White had been sent to Norwich Asylum in December 1899 suffering from acute mania and that before and after that he had showed great violence. In July and August 1900 he was described as being rational but hot-headed and vicious and on 25 August 1900 he was discharged recovered.

A man that had known him since childhood said that he had always considered him strange and sometimes not responsible.

It was noted that whilst awaiting trial he had continually threatened to kill himself but the Governor and the Medical Officer thought him quite sane although a very low specimen of humanity.

On 13 November 1903, the day Bernard White was convicted, a woman that had lived in Columbia Road, Shoreditch went to a police station stating that she had read an account of the Warley Gap Murder in the Star newspaper of the same day that detailed the civilian that had been seen near the crime scene detailed by the defence and said that she thought that the description might be her husband who had formerly been in the 2nd Essex Regiment stationed at Warley. She said that he had been discharged about 12 months but that on the day before the murder he had had left home stating that he was going into the country and that on the following Sunday he had returned home late in the evening with his hair and moustache dyed red and in different clothes. She said that when she spoke to him about his hair she said that he said, 'I have been down to Warley where a murder has been committed and my being a strange civilian in the place they might say I did it, but I am going away tomorrow'.

She said that her husband left early the following Tuesday morning telling her that she had better sell up the home and move. She said that he had not been home since but thought that he had been living with his sister in Upper John Street, Hoxton.

The woman said that she took no notice of what her husband told her at the time but said that after reading the account in the newspaper that she thought it strange and that she had better inform the police.

However, the police stated, regarding the woman's claim, that there did not seem to be the least evidence or suspicion of anyone other than Bernard White having committed the crime. 

When the man was questioned on 18 November 1903 he said that he had formerly been a private in the 2nd Essex Regiment stationed at Warley but had been discharged in November 1901. He said that in May 1903 he had been residing with his wife and mother in Beaconsfield Road, Walthamstow and that on or about 14 May 1903 he had been out of work and went into the country to look for work and was away for between 4 and 5 days, returning on the following Sunday.

He said that during that time he had stayed at a private house for three nights in a village about a mile and a half from Harold Wood Station towards Warley but could not give the name of the village or the people that he had stayed with although he said that he could take the police there.

He said that when he left home he had been wearing a brown overcoat, blue serge jacket and vest and a pair of regimental cloth trousers with the stripes taken out. He added that he had died his hair to make it a dark brown because his hair was turning grey and it was difficult to get work with grey hair. He said that he returned home with the same clothes that he had left wearing.

He said that when he returned home he stayed with his wife for about a week but then had a quarrel and they agreed to part, his wife taking part of the furniture leaving him with the rest of the house. He said that he remained at the house for about a week but then went to reside at 65 Frederick Street in Caledonian Road until Whitsun Monday after which he removed to his present address in Upper John Street, Hoxton.

He added that when he returned from the country that he didn't pass any remark to any person respecting the Warley Gap Murder as he was not aware that one had been committed at the time but said that he did read about if in the paper about a week or so after.

The medical enquiry into the mental condition of Bernard White concluded that after careful consideration that the evidence and interviews with Bernard White that they felt that there was no reason to believe that at the time that he had committed the murder that he was either insane or irresponsible.

The medical report, written on 24 November 1903, stated that Bernard White was a young and active man and was fully up to the average of his class in intelligence. The report stated that at the commencement of their conversation that Bernard White assumed an aspect of stupidity and an incapability to understand their questions on the simplest ordinary matters of everyday life and said that his answers were disjointed, calculated and evasive. However, the report stated that later on he gave up that attitude and talked more to the purpose on subjects that had no connection with the murder.

The report stated that Bernard White told them about having met Maud Garrett on the evening of Thursday 21 May 1903 and walking with her as well of having met her on the evening of Friday 22 May 1903 and later parting with her near the barracks and then later having left his tent soon after 10pm to re-join her again by arrangement. However, Bernard White declared that he did not meet Maud Garrett as expected and was said to have indignantly denied having murdered her.

The report went on to state that although they informed him following his conviction that the judge and jury were satisfied of his guilt he persisted in his denial and left them in an offended air.

However, the report stated that when they saw Bernard White on the morning of 24 November 1903 and spoke to him seriously about his position and asked him whether he had anything to say to them after reflection during the night, saying that he had better take the opportunity to relieve his mind regarding the murder, that he broke down and confessed to the murder, saying that he became angry after she used aggravating and offensive terms towards him.

The report stated that Bernard White broke down and told them of the circumstances that led up to the act, affirming that he had left the barracks with the sole intention of walking home with Maud Garrett and seeing if he could arrange matters with her so that they might give up the unfriendliness that had latterly existed between them as he was really fond of her. However, the report stated that Bernard White appeared to have been unsuccessful in that regard and that Bernard White said that Maud Garrett made use of very aggravating and offensive remarks to him and that he had become angry and irritated and in the end struck her in the face with his fist. He said that Maud Garrett then came at him as if to strike him and that he then felled her with another blow and that then, overcome with a paroxysm of fury, he kicked her about the head and struck her with his cane. He admitted then that as she lay unconscious on the ground that he pushed the cane into her vagina.

The report stated that Bernard White admitted that he had been drinking freely of beer and had also had some whiskey during the evening and said that he was jealous of her friendliness with other men.

The medical report then concluded that they did not think that Bernard White had had any intention of killing Maud Garrett when he had left the barracks or that the murder was in any way premeditated.

The medical evidence on Maud Garrett showed that she had six wounds probably caused by the cane on her left cheek, that her jaw was broken, her teeth knocked out and that her left eye-ball was fractured. Death was given as being due to shock from her injuries.

A doctor with the Home Office said that he carried out analysis of Bernard White's clothes and found blood on his trousers that appeared to have been washed with water as well as on his boots, socks and his cane. He said that the bloodstains on his socks looked as though they had been caused by him trying to take them off with bloodstained hands. He added that if the wounds to Maud Garrett's head had been caused by Bernard White's boots that he would have expected his boots to have had more blood on them. He also added that he was also surprised not to have found more blood on Bernard White's tunic, assuming that he had carried out the murder.

Bernard White had said that the blood had come from when he had cut his hand with a penknife. However, a doctor that examined the two small wounds on his hand said that one was as large as a pin's head and that the other had not bled.

When the defence summed up at the trial they noted that there were discrepancies in the evidence and pointed out that at the times that screams were heard that Bernard White had been in his tent and therefore could not have been the murderer.

He also criticised the police for assuming that a bundle of old clothes that were found near the body had had no connection with the case.

The defence also noted the evidence regarding the unknown civilian that was seen near the scene of the murder and who was never traced.

Bernard White was executed at Chelmsford on the morning of 1 December 1903.

see National Archives - HO 144/714/109569

see Dundee Courier - Saturday 14 November 1903

see Essex Newsman - Saturday 03 October 1903

see The Scotsman - Saturday 14 November 1903

see Leominster News and North West Herefordshire & Radnorshire Advertiser - Friday 20 November 1903

see Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard - Saturday 05 December 1903