British Executions

James Henry Clarkson

Age: 19

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 29 Mar 1904

Crime Location: 9 Bennison Street, Guisborough, Cleveland

Execution Place: Leeds

Method: hanging

Executioner: William Billington


James Henry Clarkson was convicted for the murder of Elizabeth Mary Lynas 12 and sentenced to death.

He cut her throat in a yard at 9 Bennison Street, Guisborough, Cleveland on 27 December 1903.

Elizabeth Lynas had lived with her mother at 17 Bennison Street. Her mother last saw her at 6.15pm on 27 December 1903 as she went off to church.

She had gone to church and had returned with some friends who had parted with her near her home at the corner of Bennison Street at about 8.10pm. She was never seen alive again.

She was noticed to be missing around 10pm and a search was made and she was later found dead just after 11.30pm on the same day lying on the highway side on the edge of the causeway in a direct line behind Back Bennison Street. It was lying opposite the lane that led to the back entrances of the houses.

Her feet and hands had been tied tightly with a rope which was passed three times around her waist and her throat was cut to the back bone. A blood-stained rag was also found tied around her throat with two knots covering the wound.

The police then began to inspect the back doors in Back Bennison Street and at No. 9 found blood and wet mud on the door handle. At about 1.30am they went back to 9 Back Bennison Street where they saw James Clarkson standing in his shirt which was stained with blood on the arms, front, flap and breast. It was noted that he also had blood on his hands and had two cuts on the forefingers of each hands. He said that they had been made with a pocket knife.

In the back kitchen they also found a towel smeared with wet blood and drops of blood on two bricks. In the yard near the grate they also found some water that appeared to have blood mixed in it and in the coal house they found wet blood on the coals and on the walls as well as the girl's hat. They also found a razor on the kitchen shelf which was smeared with blood.

The police stated that there was clear evidence that he had murdered Elizabeth Lynas in the back yard of 9 Bennison Street and then carried her body to the place where it was found and then washed up the yard and tried very unsuccessfully to conceal traces of the murder.  It was determined that at the time of the murder that his father and sister had been out and that his little brother, who had been at home, had been in bed asleep.

When questioned James Clarkson said that he had gone out just before 8pm for a walk across Applegarth to Whitby Road and back returning about 8.20pm but said that he had met no one he knew.

James Clarkson's father who was a fitter said that he had gone out at 4pm and had returned around 9.20pm and had found James Clarkson sitting by the kitchen fire. He admitted that the razor was his but said that he could not account for the blood stains on it.

The police report stated that there was no doubt as to the fact that he had committed the murder, however, the difficulty was in determining the motive.

Medical evidence showed that Elizabeth Lynas could not have been outraged.

It was noted that when James Clarkson's father and sister had returned between 9pm and 10pm that James Clarkson had appeared quiet and natural in his conduct and had played the violin and offered to lay the table for supper.

When he was arrested he had also appeared quite calm and indifferent, but the following day he broke down and the police inspector found him in his cell in a distressed state of mind and crying out, 'Why did I do it, why did I do it?'. However, afterwards in prison he again became indifferent to the matter and even cheerful.

A doctor at Wakefield Prison said that he refused to entertain the idea that the murder had been committed in an 'epileptic frenzy', and said that there was no evidence that at the time of the murder that he had not been in full possession of his mental faculties. However, he said that on the other hand, his account of James Clarkson's subsequent conduct appeared to point to an abnormal mental condition and he said that he entertained considerable doubt as to his sanity.

The police report stated that the chief difficulty in the case was the apparent absence of motive on the part of James Clarkson. It was stated that it was possible that it had been his intention to outrage Elizabeth Lynas and that when she had screamed and resisted that he had cut her throat, but that there was no direct evidence that that was the case. The report added that if not then the murder remained without a motive and could apparently only be accounted for by the theory of insanity.

After he was convicted, the jury recommended James Clarkson to mercy on account of his youth and in passing sentence the judge said that he would pass on the recommendation but did not say whether he concurred.

However, there was no interference in his sentence and he was executed at Leeds by William Billington on 29 March 1904. He was said to have walked firmly to the scaffold and appeared to be thoroughly penitent.

see National Archives - HO 144/742/115328

see Leeds Mercury - Wednesday 06 January 1904

see Nottingham Evening Post - Wednesday 06 January 1904

see Dundee Evening Post - Tuesday 29 March 1904

see Framlingham Weekly News - Saturday 02 April 1904