British Executions

Thomas Cowdrey

Age: 36

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 16 Dec 1903

Crime Location: Long Valley, Aldershot

Execution Place: Winchester

Method: hanging

Executioner: William Billington


William Brown and Thomas Cowdrey were convicted of the murder of Esther Atkins 35 and sentenced to death.

William Brown was a soldier in the Royal Scots Fusiliers based in Aldershot and Thomas Cowdrey was a jobbing labourer who worked in fields and bye-roads.

They met in the Crimea pub along with another soldier and met Esther Atkins who was a prostitute.

Together they went off and Esther Atkins was later found dead. Her murder was reported by Thomas Cowdrey who went to see the police saying that he had seen the two soldiers kill her.

William Brown and Thomas Cowdrey and the other soldier were tried for her murder but only William Brown and Thomas Cowdrey were convicted, the second soldier was acquitted.

Police arrived to find Esther Atkins dead in a copse near the Wellington Statue partially naked. They found her snuff box a few yards from her body which she used to keep her money in and a blood stained branch nearby.

The friend of Esther Atkins with whom she had lodged for 18 months said that she saw Esther Atkins in the evening with two Scottish soldiers wearing kilts.

Thomas Cowdrey said that he was walking down the High Street when he saw two soldiers with a woman and said that they asked him if he wanted to go for a walk up the street and he said that he would. He said that they went along the High Street and then up Station Road and when they got to the top of Station Road one of the soldiers had asked him to get a flask of whisky for a shilling. After he said he got a cab in which he got on the box, and said that the soldiers told him to ride as far as the turnpike. During the journey Thomas Cowdrey told the cab driver that the soldiers intended to rob Esther Atkins.

He said that when they got there the two soldiers went off with Esther Atkins and then 10 minutes later he heard the cry of 'Murder' and he at once went to the spot where the soldiers and Esther Atkins had gone and saw the soldiers beating Esther Atkins and hitting her with a belt. He said that when he went to pick up a pair of corsets one of the soldiers struck at him with the belt and he said that he struck at the belt with his fist.

He also said that when he first looked over the fence he had seen William Brown on top of Esther Atkins with his knee on her chest.

When a doctor went into the coppice where Esther Atkins was found he said that she was lying on the ground with her clothes torn from her face down on her knees. She had about 8 wounds to her head all of which went down to the bone. There were also some other smaller cuts and when he opened her mouth some teeth fell out. He said that he thought that the wounds were probably caused by a hard instrument with a more or less smooth edge and said that the buckle end of a soldier's belt was a likely instrument to have caused them.

He also said that there were some lacerated wounds including one which started from the forehead and ran down to the corner of the right eye which went down to the bone and said that they could have been inflicted by a stick.

Also the lower parts of her arms and wrists were bruised indicating a fierce struggle had taken place and the doctor said that they were consistent with having been held by more than one assailant. The doctor said that Esther Atkins was a powerful woman and both of her hands had been held.

He said that when he removed the scalp he found that it had been separated from the bone by a diffused blood clot which indicated that great violence had been used.

He said that death was due to shock occasioned by her injuries and hastened by the severe struggle and blood loss.

Esther Atkins was described as being 5ft. 7in. and 35 years of age. She was a hard habitual drinker and the doctor said that that would have made given her less vitality to withstand her injuries.

At first the two soldiers, William Brown and another soldier, were arrested and Thomas Cowdrey had appeared relieved as though he had dodged a bullet saying that it was either them or him that would get the blame.

However, Thomas Cowdrey was found to have blood on him which he said he had got while helping the police pick up the body of Esther Atkins. He was also found to have had a pair of Esther Atkins's stays on him. William Brown was found to have had Esther Atkins's shoes with him.

All three of them had blood on their clothing.

When William Brown had returned to barracks at 12.15am he had asked for a towel to wash blood from his hands and produced a pair of woman's boots that he said he had stolen.

At the inquest where all three men were committed for trial for her murder the Coroner severely censured the cab driver who had driven the party to the Wellington statue after he had given evidence saying that he had heard Thomas Cowdrey say that the soldiers were planning on robbing Esther Atkins but had done nothing adding that if he had the tragedy could have been prevented.

The only evidence linking the soldiers to the journey to Wellingtons statue was that of Thomas Cowdrey and of the cabman's who was said to have had poor eyesight and had only momentarily seen one of the men who he said was William Brown.

The defence for Thomas Cowdrey said that at no time had it been shown that Thomas Cowdrey had acted with the soldiers.

At their execution as they were having the ropes and hoods put around their heads William Brown said 'Before I pass from this world I confess I helped to do it' and then Thomas Cowdrey said 'spare me 5 minutes to speak the truth. God help me in my innocence. I am going to heaven. Brown is the man who done it and has confessed', William Brown then said 'I helped'.

see Dundee Courier - Friday 27 November 1903

see Worcestershire Chronicle - Saturday 31 October 1903

see Hull Daily Mail - Tuesday 24 November 1903

see Cheltenham Chronicle - Saturday 05 December 1903

see Leeds Mercury - Thursday 26 November 1903

see St James's Gazette - Wednesday 16 December 1903

see National Archives - HO 144/734/113523